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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Brandon Gleason, Hamline University

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

While nearly every athlete has had to cope with injuries of varying natures, few have had to deal with as serious an injury as Brandon Gleason had to overcome. The Hamline University cross country and track stand-out, who was on the verge of qualifying for the NCAA national meet, was struck by an SUV in February 2007. His injuries were severe enough that there was a possibility he might never be able to walk or run again, but he has made a full recovery, and captured All-American honors at the NCAA Division III cross country meet today.

...

floated leftThree days before the accident, Brandon had clocked an NCAA Division III provisional qualifying 14:35 in the 5,000-meters in a meet at Iowa State. “I was pretty sure that would put me in the field for nationals,” Brandon said. “I felt I was peaking right and could finish in the top eight and be All-American. I was planning to run on the 16th at the U of M and was going to try to break the Hamline school record in the mile.”

On the morning of Feb. 12, 2007, Brandon got up, did a little studying and took off for his usual five-mile run. Following the same path he regularly took, he came to the intersection of Thomas Avenue and Aldine Street, a four-way stop. An SUV blew through the intersection, knocking him down with its front bumper and then rolling over his legs with two of its tires. His right tibia was broken and the medial collateral ligament and meniscus of that knee were torn. Miraculously, his left leg suffered only cuts and bruises. Brandon lost a considerable amount of blood, but remained conscious throughout the ordeal. “It all happened so fast, I don’t remember feeling pain until I was at the hospital,” he said. “My tibia broke in half and tore through the skin. I pushed myself away so I wouldn’t get hit again, which I later found out saved my life. My movement popped the bone back in the skin.”

Doctors at Regions Hospital in St. Paul inserted a steel rod and four screws into Brandon’s right tibia. While this stabilized the leg and helped the break heal, it left him with a constant pain, particularly in the knee.

floated rightBrandon gritted it out, and put himself through an arduous rehab program. By May, he had clearance from his doctors to begin running again. “I got the go-ahead to run on May 8 and I started up,” he said. “I would run two days on and two days off and I would say I did this for about two weeks. But I had such knee pain that I took off until June 11 and then I started to run three days on and one day off.”

He started running in earnest that August, taking some time off in October. “I set a goal for myself that I’d run 700 miles between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31,” he said. “I ended up with 970 miles. In December, I started running my old route and still run it now. I always stop at the stop sign at Thomas.”

Originally, Brandon did not plan to run competitively until outdoor track season in 2008, or maybe the cross country season this fall. But as he continued to train in the fall of 2007, his coaches began telling him he was making great progress. Their encouragement got him thinking about trying to return for the indoor season in the winter of 2008. After a heartfelt discussion with Coach Paul Schmaedeke, Brandon decided to use the 2008 indoor season to jumpstart his return.

On Jan. 26, Brandon stepped onto the track at Iowa State. A year earlier, he had logged a personal best time of 8:33.51 in the 3,000-meters. In this, his first race after the accident, Brandon clocked in at 8:34.45, just one second slower than his previous best time.

Clearly, he was back.

But the happiness of his successful return to running was tempered by sorrow. On Feb. 2, 2008, Brandon’s father passed away. “He had heart trouble, and was in the VA Hospital,” Brandon said. “I visited him three days before he died. Since the accident, Dad had cautioned me that ‘you might not be able to run like you used to,’ which helped motivate me. He didn’t want me to be hurt or think I had failed if I wasn’t able to return to my old standard. I didn’t run for six days after he passed.”

By March, he was rounding into top form, and took first at the MIAC Meet in the 3,000-meter and second in the 5,000-meters. He qualified for the NCAA National Meet in the 5,000, and brought home an 11th place finish. In the spring season, Brandon added the MIAC outdoor championship in the 1,500-meters and a third place finish in the 5,000-meters.

floated leftThis fall in cross country, Brandon continued his success. He placed third at the MIAC Meet, garnering All-MIAC honors. Hamline finished second in the team scoring. He added a third place finish at the Central Region Meet, leading the Pipers to a ninth place showing. At the NCAA Championships, Brandon placed 13th, with a time of 24:47.802. That finish earned him All-American honors.

“The accident changed Brandon,” said Schmaedeke. “It helped him appreciate how special it is to compete and how lucky he is to be able to compete. It has made him more aware that it is a gift. Brandon is one of the most dedicated, determined young men I have ever coached. He is very thoughtful about his training program. He thinks it through and wants to know why we have him do some of the things we do and why we have him do them the way we do. He is a hard worker and a real student of the sport. His teammates and competitors respect him for what he has accomplished. Because of this, his teammates listen to what he says. He has been willing to assume a leadership role on the team.”

Brandon and his sister, Jennifer, grew up in Mantorville, MN, a town of a little more than 1,000 people 20 miles west of Rochester. He attended Kasson-Mantorville High, where he ran cross country and track. Brandon also played hockey for Dodge County, a cooperative team with players from Kasson-Mantorville, Triton, Hayfield and Byron. They did not belong to a conference. He skated on the first line, playing center, for four seasons and was team captain his junior and senior years. “We were in the same Section as the Rochester schools, and lost to Mayo in the first round all four years,” Brandon recalled. Brandon was named team MVP his junior year. “Midway through the season of my senior year, I broke my ankle, and missed the rest of the season,” he stated.

In track, Brandon ran the distance events: the mile and two miles as well as the 4 x 800-meter and 4 x 400-meter relays. He was all-conference all four years, but never qualified for the State Meet. “I always came close, but never made it,” he said. “The closest was in my senior year. I ran a 10:08.4 in the two miles, and the qualifying time was 10:08.2.”

Brandon ran cross country for five years. Kasson-Mantorville sponsored a cooperative team with neighboring Triton. They competed in Class A during the regular season but were bumped up to Class 2A in postseason, as the combined enrollment of the two schools was more than the threshold for being considered a “large” school. Brandon was all-conference four years in a row, beginning with his freshman year. As a sophomore, he was the conference individual champion, the first time a KMHS runner had won the title. Brandon qualified for the State Meet the following year, the first runner to do so in school history.

As a sophomore, Brandon was nominated for the Wendy’s Heisman. He was also named Academic All-State his junior and senior years.

Away from sports, Brandon served as vice-president of the student body his junior and senior years. He was active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and the Future Christian Leaders of America (FCLA). He was chosen as Homecoming King his senior year.

Besides the high school team cross country program, Brandon ran in the Foot Locker Cross Country championships. His sophomore year, he placed in the top 100 in the Midwest Region.

floated rightThat result, coupled with his reaching the State Meet the following year, put Brandon’s name on the recruiting radar. Many of the Division III programs in the Upper Midwest as well as several Division II programs recruited him. “Hamline, UMD, St. Scholastica and Concordia of St. Paul were the ones who recruited me the most,” he said. “Coach Schmaedeke came down to Mantorville to talk with me and was the most consistent and persistent of those recruiting me. I also looked at Carthage College (WI) and visited there. I had already visited Hamline, and Carthage didn’t feel as good of a fit for me as Hamline.”

Arriving at Hamline, Brandon began running with the Pipers cross country team his freshman year. That season, he finished 39th at the MIAC Meet, helping Hamline to a fifth place finish. He went on to finish 75th at the Central Region Meet.

His sophomore year, Brandon earned All-MIAC honors as he placed seventh at the MIAC Meet, helping the Pipers win the team championship. He placed 26th at the Region Meet, as Hamline finished third. Hamline placed seventh at the NCAA Championships, with Brandon coming in 86th.

The following fall, Hamline finished second at the MIAC Meet and Brandon placed 34th. He improved to fourth place at the Region and helped the Pipers to a first-place showing. The team qualified for the NCAA Meet, where Brandon placed 97th.

Before the accident, Brandon ran track for two seasons. He won the MIAC championship in the mile during the indoor season of his freshman year. He added third place showings in the mile and 3,000-meters at the MIAC Indoor Meet his sophomore year and a third place finish in the 1,500-meters at the MIAC Outdoor Meet his sophomore year. Brandon also competed in the 5,000-meters in the outdoor seasons.

Brandon has been involved in the Hamline Student Athletic Advisory Committee. SAAC looks out for the well-being of student-athletes on campus, promotes support of Piper athletics and encourages attendance at home games and events. He is a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, a leadership honors society. He has volunteered with Hamline programs at St. Paul area elementary schools. “I’ve helped out at different schools, doing things like tutoring kids that are a little behind,” he said. “I’ve helped them in math, reading and writing.”

He is a lead dispatcher with security on campus, and has worked there since 2005. Brandon’s duties include updating the training manual and helping with training new dispatchers.

Brandon is a Psychology major with a 3.89 GPA. He has a minor in Education with an emphasis in Social Studies and has been on the Dean’s List each semester that he has been at Hamline. He will graduate in May and is planning to student teach in the fall of 2009.

His plans after that are undecided at this point. “I am open to ideas,” he said. “I am considering the Peace Corps, teaching or getting a job in the corporate world. I’m also giving thought to going on to graduate school, maybe law school.”

When he was recovering from the accident, Brandon discovered how close-knit the community is at Hamline and also the MIAC running community. “I received hundreds of letters, cards and e-mails from people at Hamline- faculty, staff and students- and from runners around the MIAC,” he said. “We compete against each other, but when we go to a bigger meets or Nationals, the MIAC runs like a big team, encouraging one another.”

That sense of community has been a key part of Brandon’s appreciation of his time at Hamline. “Being here has helped me grow as a person,” he said. “It has helped me better myself as a part of society. I have met lifelong friends here, and Coach Schmaedeke has always been there for me, like a second father. Hamline has been right for me for all the right reasons: the people I’ve met, the education I’ve received and the opportunities I’ve had.”

[The x-ray of Brandon’s leg is used courtesy of Brandon Gleason. All other photos are courtesy of the Hamline University Sports Information Office.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2008-2009″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.