Sept. 20, 2007
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IOWA CITY — Eric MacTaggart is an All-American distance runner for the University of Iowa who realizes that his future will include music, another passion. Running and music butted heads this fall for the senior from Glen Ellyn, Ill.
For the time being, music — more specifically the UI Hawkeye Marching Band — came out on top.
MacTaggart is a music education major, where a requirement is to spend one fall semester in the marching band. A trombone player, MacTaggart was originally going to complete his “music mission” in 2006, but the Hawkeyes were predicted to have an exceptional cross country team, so he decided to postpone marching band until this season. His loss creates a huge void for the Iowa men, who qualified for the last three NCAA cross country championships. Last season MacTaggart was the team’s top runner at nationals, placing 66th with a 10-kilometer time of 32-minutes, 12-seconds. He was 10th at the Big Ten Conference Championship, earning second team all-conference (the Hawkeyes placed fifth). He earned all-region honors by placing 17th at the Midwest Regional meet.
“We enabled Eric to accomplish his academic and athletic goals,” Iowa Head Coach Larry Wieczorek said. “That’s the way it is at the University of Iowa. We’re willing to accommodate our students. During the recruiting process we knew that we would have to eventually let one of our key athletes sit out a cross country season, but we felt that Eric was worth it.”
The good news is that MacTaggart has not exhausted his collegiate athletic eligibility. He still has one full year to compete in cross country (2008) and two for both indoor and outdoor track (2008 and 2009). Although he can not officially compete in cross country this fall, MacTaggart is still remaining very close to the UI program. His roommates are runners Micah VanDenend, Heath Moenck and Andy Napier. MacTaggart practices with the team every Sunday on a long run and then again on Monday with whoever shows up for the voluntary workout. He arrives at the Recreation Building between 6:30 and 7:30 nearly every morning to train on his own. In some ways the competitive recess has been a blessing in disguise. The break allowed MacTaggart to recuperate from Achilles tendonitis which plagued him last season. Still, nothing can replace the camaraderie of being part of the Hawkeye cross country family.
“We enabled Eric to accomplish his academic and athletic goals. That’s the way it is at the University of Iowa. We’re willing to accommodate our students. During the recruiting process we knew that we would have to eventually let one of our key athletes sit out a cross country season, but we felt that Eric was worth it.”
Iowa Head Coach Larry Wieczorek
“I enjoy the team atmosphere of running,” MacTaggart said. “I like it probably for the same reasons that a lot of people like sports in general — competing, getting better, working hard and seeing results.”
Even without competitive cross country, there is not much free time on MacTaggart’s personal calendar. His course load includes symphony band, jazz band, marching band, instrumental techniques, music history, trombone lessons, recital attendance and foundations of special education.
“It’s 15 hours,” MacTaggart said. “But it’s a very busy 15 hours.”
MacTaggart said his interest in band and running came “almost simultaneously.” He started running when he was 10 years old and began playing the trombone about the same time when he was in fifth grade. Running has allowed him to compete in four national championships — the last three seasons in cross country and as a sophomore in track, where he earned All-American status in the 10K.
“People try to relate both running and music,” MacTaggart said. “You have to practice both just about every day. There are only about two weeks out of the year where you don’t run. It’s the same with playing the trombone. I usually shoot for 1 ½ hours of trombone practice every day, six days a week. I run every day — on average — for an hour a day.”
MacTaggart graduated from Glenbard South High School in 2004 where he placed third in the 3,200 run at the state meet as a senior and fifth at state cross country as a junior. He was a four-year honor student, earning high academic honors as a senior. Musically, he participated in the band, jazz band, pit orchestra and madrigal brass. MacTaggart transitioned well to the UI, where he continues to shine in athletics, music and academics. He was named academic all-Big Ten in both cross country and track and field.
“Running and music are definitely worth it to me,” MacTaggart said. “I would never want to quit running and music is what I want to do for a career, so I’m not going to drop that either. I’ve enjoyed myself and it works out pretty well as far as balancing the two.”
The athletic highlight for MacTaggart was becoming an All-American in the 10K during the 2006 outdoor season. He placed 11th (29:22.78) at the NCAA Championships in Sacramento. That same season he set a personal best in the 10K at the Stanford Invitational (28:50.23). Marching band highlights, however, are not based on times and are far less tangible.
“I like the run-on at the beginning of pregame,” MacTaggart said. “We also do high step and low step and it’s been kind of interesting learning both these styles (of marching).”
For MacTaggart, it simply boiled down to not having enough time in the day to do both of his hobbies.
“It’s hard to be a runner and music is very time consuming on top of that,” he said. “The whole time I’ve been at Iowa I’ve always been pretty busy. The major conflict between marching band and cross country is the games on one hand. The practices are at basically the same time, too.”
While the UI men’s cross country team competed in its own Hawkeye Invitational on Sept. 15, MacTaggart, horn in hand, was stepping off a bus in Ames, moments before the Iowa-Iowa State football game. There were no mile splits or sprint to the finish chute for MacTaggart. Not on this day. But UI cross country and MacTaggart will be reunited next fall.
“I’m sure Eric will come back next season ready to make an outstanding contribution,” Wieczorek said.
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