Publication: Worthington Daily Globe; Date: Jan. 7, 2010; Section: Sports; Page: B1
Fulda graduate Anthony Drealan finishes 25th at national cross country meet
BY MICHAEL BRAUER, DAILY GLOBE
VANCOUVER, Wash. - A mile and a half into the most important cross country race of his life, Anthony Drealan fell down.
He tried to get up, but the mass of runners pushed him back to the sloppy ground.
In the tangle of legs with his body covered in mud and his face covered in blood, Dakota State's lead runner had a decision to make.
He could simply jog it in for the next three-and-a-half miles, finish out the NAIA Cross Country National Championship somewhere in the middle of the pack, and no one would think any less of him for it.
Or, he could start chipping away, making up the ground he lost.
Drealan chose the latter.
"It was just one of those things," he said of the fall. "It happened, but there was nothing I could do about it. I've got to keep going."
Drealan not only kept going - he chipped away for the remainder of the race. The graduate of Fulda high school started reeling in runners one by one.
"I don't know if he got kicked in the face or hit his face on the ground, because his nose was bleeding and he had blood running down his cheek," DSU head coach Trent Mack recalled. "I'm like, 'What the heck happened?'...It says a lot about his attitude that he kept at it."
On the brink of an All-American finish, with just more than 1,000 meters remaining, Drealan approached a gradual incline with a cluster of five other runners.
"I'm thinking worst-case scenario, there's nothing worst than finishing 31st," Mack said. "It's a great finish, but the first one missing the All-American spot. I'm thinking, the way his luck his going, who knows what going to happen. But low and behold, he finished the entire way and didn't back down for a minute."
Drealan passed the entire group and crossed the finish line in 25th place, earning NAIA All-American honors.
"People were saying I got 25th, but I didn't believe them," he said. "I wanted to see the results myself."
Drealan soon found out that he covered the 8-kilometer course in 25 minutes, 46 seconds. That's an average mile time of 5:11 over nearly five miles, and what Drealan called the "best race he's ever ran."
"I held on pretty well," he said. "My fear was that people were going to pass me on that last stretch and I'd lose out on it."
Less than a year ago, Drealan had larger fears. He wasn't sure when, or even if, he'd be able to race at a top level again.
Last winter, the son of Fulda's Wayne and Heidi Drealan came back from Christmas break excited and ready to do some damage in indoor track. He had qualified for the national cross-country meet a few months earlier, and he was getting stronger and faster every day.
However, it quickly became apparent something was wrong. During races, Drealan was experiencing more than just race exhaustion. He was completely drained.
"He could handle workouts with no problem," Mack said. "But when you asked for 100 percent effort in a race, it just wasn't adding up."
It was extremely frustrating for Drealan, who had been cutting time since he started running. It seemed like the more work he did, the worse he performed.
"It was hard to know what to do," he said, "because I felt like I could do the workouts. But obviously the results were showing that something was wrong."
It was almost as discouraging for his coach.
"You start second guessing what you're doing," Mack said. "Is he doing too much, is he doing too little?"
"Finally, we were just like, 'We've got to get this figured out, there's something underlying that's affecting this," the coach recalled.
Drealan went to the doctor, thoughts running through his mind about what it could be: Maybe anemia, or perhaps worse.
When the tests came back, though, the results seemed obvious - mononucleosis, or mono - a viral disease that causes extreme fatigue and can take weeks, sometimes even months, to overcome.
Drealan was almost relieved.
"With mono, you know you're going to get over it," he said. "It's comforting knowing that it's something else and not just you...There was a reason I wasn't running the greatest."
The only real cure for mono is rest, and lots of it.
Drealan's hardest challenge wasn't logging extra miles anymore, rather the opposite. He had to cut way back on his mileage; he even had to quit running altogether for the first week after his diagnosis. A guy who would voluntarily run 10 miles at the drop of a hat now had to force himself to take naps.
But Drealan also turned his misfortune into motivation.
After redshirting (sitting out) for the outdoor track, he set his sights on the next fall, and cross-country season.
At the DAC cross country meet, the DSU men knocked Black Hills from its yearly pedestal atop the conference, earning a team invitation to the NAIA National Championships in Vancouver, Wash.
Drealan was a large reason why, finishing as DSU's top runner in six of the Trojans' eight season meets.
It's as if Drealan has followed (or ran) in his father Wayne's footsteps. Wayne is an avid runner himself, as one of only four people who have competed in all 30 of Worthington's King Turkey Day 10K Races.
Wayne made sure to never pressure Anthony into running. But for Anthony, it was inevitable.
"He was always running," Drealan said of his dad. "Just the fact that he was always running and set an example, that's why I got into it."
Turned out, Drealan was pretty good at the running thing, too. He even qualified for Minnesota's Class A State meet after a top 10 finish at the Section 3A invitational in Adrian.
College coaches routinely litter the sidelines at that particular section meet, usually looking for runners from perennial powerhouse Adrian. But the kid from Fulda caught then-DSU head coach Buzz Stevenson's eye. Stevenson eventually convinced Drealan to give running at the college level a shot.
"He said I had an opportunity to run," said Drealan, who is majoring in computer education at DSU. "I didn't know a whole lot about the school, but the coaches made me excited and made me think that I could actually do it."
Wayne Drealan couldn't have been happier with his son's decision.
But standing some 20 yards away while watching his son almost get trampled at nationals, the happiness evaporated quickly.
"I honestly thought that was the end of it," he said. "You just have a terrible sensation go through you, thinking that was it, in a matter of seconds. But a few seconds later, I saw his head pop up, and he was back in stride again."
Anthony was down, but not out. A little tired, perhaps.
But this was the same guy who had come back stronger after a bout with mono.
Pure race fatigue? That was something he could handle just fine.
"I'm just thankful for the opportunities that I've had," he said. "Running is a great thing, because you can improve quite a bit by hard work. I think a lot of kids can do that same thing, they just to have the belief that they can."