Jared Berman never imagined his freshmen year of college as a long distance runner at Virginia Tech would be filled with such drama. But the 2009 Robinson Secondary School graduate, as it turned out, experienced enough highs and lows during one school year of athletics to fill an entire college career.
“I had trained real hard [last summer] because I wanted to do real well as a freshman,” said Berman.
All of that hard summertime work, which included long distance runs of seven to nine miles called `steadies,’ a timed practice routine in which Berman and former Edison High runner Lee Degfae took part in together, ultimately paid off for the Fairfax Station resident.
But there were times when it appeared Berman’s first year as a Hokie runner would be less than fulfilling.
Throughout the first half of last fall’s cross country season, Berman had not yet been called upon to participate in a meet. As a freshman, that is not highly unusual as newcomers to the program often play secondary roles to more seasoned team members. So Berman was thrilled when long distance coach Ben Thomas informed him he would be competing at Tech’s midseason meet at Appalachian State (N.C). When the youngster was given a uniform he was absolutely thrilled.
Berman, at the time, was struggling somewhat with an injury to his right foot but was not about to let that hold him back. So, in his first race as a Virginia Tech runner, Berman gave it all he had and finished an impressive 23rd place overall.
That night - or early morning - back on Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, Berman was in so much pain that he called upon an athletic trainer at 1 a.m. That’s when he learned he had run with a stress fracture and would be sidelined at least a month.
“That was terrible,” recalled Berman, who credited his mother, Deborah, back home in Northern Virginia with encouraging him to do the work over the ensuing weeks to regain his health and running form. “I was kind of disappointed.”
For a stretch of time he had to wear a protective boot on his right foot. He said it often dragged on the floors or walkways where he moved about, leaving a black streak in his path. Fellow students always knew where Berman had been.
“I had this ridiculous boot on my foot and there were a bunch of skid marks [where I’d dragged it],” said Berman with a laugh. “Girls thought it was funny.”
Berman never returned to action that cross country season and was still on the mend when the winter indoor track and field season started up. Eventually, after the winter break, it was decided he would be red-shirted for the indoor season, meaning he would not compete over the winter but still retain four years of eligibility.
The red-shirt status actually carried into the outdoor season as well, so it appeared Berman’s school year of running was over. He was still allowed to practice with the team, however, and was nearly back to full strength. He began, at Coach Thomas’ suggestion, practicing the 3,000-meters steeplechase run – a long distance event in which participants, running around the track, must clear numerous hurdles as well as a few water barrier jumps.
Berman had no idea his work in the event would lead to his return to competition that spring. But that’s what happened. Coach Thomas found a loophole to get Berman back on the active roster and he was no longer a spring red-shirt. Berman, in his first outdoor competition, ran well in a 5,000-meters race at William & Mary.
One of Berman’s best moments of the year was when he received his running gear, including team warm-ups, prior to that meet in Williamsburg.
“Before the William & Mary meet, Coach Thomas texted me and told me to come in and get my gear,” said Berman. “I was like, `How is this possible, I should [still be] red-shirted?’ But he told me I would be racing at William & Mary and that I would be on the roster.”
Two weeks following the William & Mary meet, Berman made his steeple chase debut at none other than the ACC Championships at Clemson University.
“I was a little scared,” he said. “I was in the steeple for the first time.”
But Berman was outstanding. He nearly tripped early in the race when his trail foot hit the third barrier on a hurdle. But he kept going and ultimately finished sixth at the championship event.
It was an incredible showing for the first year collegiate runner who, several weeks earlier, never dreamed he’d even be on the active team roster.
“He scored for us as a freshman in the steeplechase at the conference championships,” marveled Coach Thomas. “That’s something that’s hard to do as a freshman.”
Another highlight came later in the outdoor season when Berman finished second in the mile race at an invitational at Ohio State.
Overall, it had turned into an unexpectedly wonderful spring. One of Berman’s favorite parts of being on the team was the travel.
“What’s awesome about the outdoor season is you get to travel a lot and see all these places – like Atlanta,” said Berman, who is studying civil engineering at Tech. “And I had never been to Ohio before.”
<b>WHEN THE SCHOOL YEAR</b> was ended, Berman, at the leading of the Virginia Tech coaching staff, set his focus on competing in the steeplechase event at the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships, held June 23-27 on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. There, much like his showing at the ACC Championships, Berman came up big once again with a stunning second place steeple finish.
Going in, Berman was confident he could better his ACC sixth place time of 9:04.60 at the Junior Championships. He barely missed, timing at 9:04.76 in Des Moines. But his second place finish, behind winner Dakota Peachee (9:03.43), was still exceptional.
Going into Nationals, the confident Berman was totally focused.
“I was ready for a PR (personal best time) and knew I could,” said Berman. “I knew I had to get down to business. I was ready to compete and have one of the biggest races in my life. I had a good warm-up and was ready.”
Berman’s strategy was to stay at the back of the running field for most of the race and then make his move with one-and-a-half laps to go. He did just that, making his move with about 150-meters remaining and even taking the lead. Peachee, however, passed Berman on the down-stretch. But finishing second was a thrill nonetheless.
“It was a huge crowd and Drake Stadium is beautiful,” said Berman. “Finishing second, I had a lot of energy and adrenaline.”
By finishing in the top two, Berman qualified for the upcoming World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, July 19-25.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “Me and [Coach Thomas] are going crazy getting stuff done [for the trip]. Virginia Tech is helping me get my passport.”
“Finishing in the top two at the USA Junior Championships is quite an honor for him,” said Thomas. “The steeplechase is something Jared just picked up and started in January.”
Berman, the Concorde District cross country champion during his senior year at Robinson, has quickly learned how challenging the steeplechase event is.
“The hardest part of the event is probably going over the barriers with a bunch of people all around you in a pack,” he said. “My favorite part is that it’s an interesting race. It’s not just running, but you’ve got barriers and its pretty challenging.”
Make no mistake, Berman loves a challenge. And he had plenty of those his freshmen year at Tech.
“I’m very proud of Jared’s accomplishments,” said Thomas. “He’s just a fearless racer. I love the way he puts himself into a race. He goes after it. He’s a real tough competitor who obviously has some talent to go with that tenacity. I think he’s going to do great things in the future. He’s going to be a special athlete for us over the next three years here at Virginia Tech.”