Track athlete shares what kept him running through four years of school
It was late when the bus filled with UW-La Crosse track athletes pulled into the UWL parking lot from Geneva, Ohio. They had just secured a national championship trophy in Men’s Outdoor Track and Field at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Outdoor championship — for 15th time in UWL school history.
UWL graduating senior Ben Jordan stepped off the bus with a sense of accomplishment.
“I finally felt as though I was finished here at UWL, and that there was nothing more for me to accomplish,” he says. “I had this sense of ‘I’m done.’”
Hours earlier Jordan wasn’t quite done. His heart was pounding as he crossed the finish line in his leg of the 4×400 meter relay — the last event of the national championship competition. As he and his relay team collapsed with exhaustion, they learned that their seventh place finish gave UWL’s team enough points to beat UW-Whitewater and clinch the national victory. The relay team hugged. The whole team gathered and put on the championship team hats and T-shirts. They raised the national trophy high in the air.
But that’s the end of the story.
The beginning starts when Jordan was a freshman on campus, just learning what it meant to be a college track athlete. He’d have to get up at 6 a.m. to make the bus to a far away city for a meet and return near midnight. Then, he’d do homework all day Sunday to be ready for classes Monday. He remembers long days and long nights.
But he wasn’t alone. All the other track athletes were working equally hard and staying up just as late. Not only that, they were helping each other do it. They tutored each other with homework, and encouraged each other get involved in groups and volunteer.
The track team and Head Coach Josh Buchholtz went about all this work with a “winning mindset” that motivated Jordan.
“We believed going into every meet, regardless of what the points were on paper, that we were going to win,” he says.
UWL’s team ended up winning a lot — all eight Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships, and five of eight national championships in his four years at UWL. Personally, Jordan earned his third, All-American honor at the national championship.
That winning mindset carried over to Jordan’s school work and life. The harder he worked in track, the more everything else seemed easy. If he could finish a grueling workout, he could certainly finish an English essay. He learned school is a lot like track in that what you put in is what you get out.
“No one is there to hold your hand and say ‘Did you run as hard as you could this rep? Or, ‘Did you type this paper as well as you could?,’” he says. “It’s up to you to reach your fullest potential.”
Outside of track, Jordan learned about his academic interests. He became an economics major and a Spanish minor. Involvement in groups helped him further hone in on what he wanted to do with his life. He was an active member of the CBA honor society, Beta Gamma Sigma, and a track and field team representative on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
He served as chief justice to the UWL Student Association, working to resolve student organization disputes. Through that experience he realized more his desires to study law after graduation.
“To a point, the more things I was involved in, the more efficient I was with school work. I didn’t have time to not be efficient,” he says. “When I was working on school work, I was all about that… in clubs I was all about clubs … when sleeping it was all about sleeping.”
And when he was running, he was all about that too. By the end of Jordan’s senior year, he felt tired, like he was running his body to the ground. Yet he was earning the best race times of his life.
And he noticed he wasn’t just becoming a better runner, he was becoming a more confident person. At some of the biggest track and field events of his career, he didn’t have the same nerves he did as an underclassman. He was more relaxed and outgoing — even joking with teammates at times.
He learned that with each late night studying and each difficult workout he finished, he always came out the other side knowing he could do it again. And he knew he was building something he’d use later in life.
After graduation, Jordan plans to attend the University of Wisconsin Law School, and eventually become an attorney in corporate, international or immigration law.
Jordan says in 20 years he probably won’t remember the time his relay team clocked in the day they won nationals. But he will remember those people who held the trophy up in the air with him, and the work they went through together to get there.
“I owe a lot of my success at UWL to this team,” he says. “I cannot thank them all enough.”