Oct. 9, 2008
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Adam Hairston is a Hawkeye legacy who yearns for more than his printed name in track and field media guides as an all-time letterwinner. In fact, he would like to add — if not monopolize — his name to the University of Iowa middle distance records section.
Hairston already owns the distinction of being the fastest Hawkeye ever to run the open 800 meters indoors. Twice last season he bettered the previous mark of 1:51.27 set by Dave Novotny in 1996. The first record-breaking perfromance was Feb. 9 at the Meyo Classic in South Bend, Ind., where Hairston won in 1:49.63.
“I was shocked because I didn’t know I was running that fast,” Hairston said. “Prior to the race at Notre Dame I had two very sub-par performances. I was running very slowly for what I was capable of. Coach Wiz (Larry Wieczorek) and Coach (Joey) Woody wondered what was going on. I was thinking too much. When I set the school record, I forgot about time and I just ran to compete hard and try to win the race. It was pretty special doing that.”
Nearly a month later on March 8, Hairston won the Last Chance Qualifier at Iowa State University.
“It’s been almost a year since I broke the record and it still hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “It’s nice to have the record, but at the same time, I want to go faster. I’d love to get the outdoor record (1:47.64 by Bill Frazier in 1962) as well. That’s definitely a goal.”
When it comes to bleeding Hawkeye black and gold, a family reunion at the Hairston home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, would take a back seat to few others. Adam’s father, John, played 70 basketball games at Iowa from 1974-77, scoring 314 points. His uncle, Gordon Beecham, was a track and field athlete for the Hawkeyes from 1983-85, running the opening leg of the school-record 4×100-meter relay set in 1984. Another uncle, Lew Montgomery, married into the family. Montgomery played running back for the Hawkeyes from 1989-92, rushing for 1,093 yards and 17 touchdowns. To top it off, Hairston’s mother and several aunts and uncles also attended college at the UI.
“There is a rich tradition of Hawkeyes in my family,” Hairston said.
Even with that UI heritage, it wasn’t a shoo-in that Adam would follow his ancestry to Iowa City. In fact, his older brother and sister attended colleges out of state.
“There are a lot of opportunities at Iowa. If you take advantage of those, you give yourself the greatest possibility to succeed. I try to take advantage of the opportunities so I can advance myself in whatever I pursue.”
UI junior Adam Hairston
“I thought I wanted to go somewhere else because I was born here and raised here,” Hairston said. “My parents told me to look at things objectively. After talking to the coaches here and meeting the team, I knew that the University of Iowa was a good fit. It’s gotten better every year. I’m glad I made that decision.”
Hairston ran cross country and track and field at Kennedy High School where he won the 1,600 run and was a member of the runner-up distance medley relay team at the 2006 Drake Relays. A three-time qualifier for the Class 4A state cross country meet, Hairston finished 16th as a junior and 10th as a senior. Because of that success, he fancied himself as a long distance runner. Division I running programs thought otherwise. At least one school told him his times were too slow. Wieczorek noticed something special that couldn’t be tracked by a stop watch.
“Adam is a real tough competitor,” Wieczorek said. “When I saw him in high school, he had the range to run cross country and the two-mile, all the way down to the 4×400 relay. Those are skills that make for a great middle distance runner. Coach Woody has specialized with him more as an 800 runner and that has enabled Adam to go from a 1:56 800-meter runner in high school, to being the school-record holder at the University of Iowa at 1:49.”
When he arrived at Iowa, Hairston realized that the notion of competing at distances for up to 10 kilometers in cross country would not become reality. He embraced the role of becoming a middle distance ace and began training to compete anywhere from 600 meters to a mile. As a freshman in 2007, Hairston led the Hawkeyes with an 800-meter time of 1:53.20. He placed eighth at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in that event in 1:53.22. During the outdoor season, Hairston qualified for the NCAA regional meet in the 800 meters after running a season-best and team-leading 1:49.99 at the Big Ten Championships. He ran on Iowa’s fourth-place conference distance medley relay team and after the collegiate season, finished third in the 800 at the USATF Junior National Championships with a time of 1:50.98. That effort earned him All-America status.
As a sophomore in 2008, Hairston not only set the indoor school record in the 800, but he also provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships. Hairston was runner-up at the Big Ten meet in 1:53.30. When the venues moved outdoors, Hairston still had the team’s top effort in the 800 (1:50.68), anchored the Hawkeye sprint medley relay team to second at the Drake Relays and finished third at the Big Ten Championships with an 800-meter time of 1:50.68.
“It’s hard to find a track and field team with so many members with so many different events and so many different individual goals to all be so close-knit. That’s what I like about this team. I’m excited to go to practice every day because we all support each other no matter if you’re a distance runner, a jumper or a thrower. Above all, we’re Hawkeyes. We really have embraced that mentality and we’re a very close-knit group and I really like that.”
UI junior Adam Hairston
“This season I would like to be an automatic NCAA qualifier,” Hairston said. “I want to win the Big Ten championship in the 800. As a team, I think we can be in the top three. Last year we wanted to by Big Ten champions and things happened that we couldn’t control. That could very well happen this year, but realistically we have the tools to be a top three in the conference if not better. Everyone believes that and everyone is working to accomplish that.”
Last season the Hawkeyes placed eighth at the indoor conference championships in Madison, Wis., in March and eighth in the outdoor championships in Champaign, Ill., in May. When speaking in terms of Hairston, Wieczorek is now looking beyond excelling at the league level.
“He has the ability to get to the NCAA finals and become one of the best 800 runners in the nation,” Wieczorek said. “Based on what he did last year, Adam is poised to make that next step to being one of the best in the country.”
Hairston has personal-best times of 1:21.19 in the 600 meters, 3:58.97 in the 1,500 and 4:19.94 in the mile. Academically, Hairston is majoring in journalism (mass communication) and English. If a postcollegiate running career doesn’t materialize, he would like to pursue magazine advertising or some other area of public relations.
“There are a lot of opportunities at Iowa,” Hairston said. “If you take advantage of those, you give yourself the greatest possibility to succeed. I try to take advantage of the opportunities so I can advance myself in whatever I pursue.”
If the Hawkeyes make a move up the Big Ten leader board this season, a contributing factor will be team chemistry. Not just because Iowa boasts a talented blend of throwers, sprinters, jumpers, middle distance and distance runners, but combine the fact that there is a strong fraternal bond among all the student-athletes on the squad.
“It’s hard to find a track and field team with so many members with so many different events and so many different individual goals to all be so close-knit,” Hairston said. “That’s what I like about this team. I’m excited to go to practice every day because we all support each other no matter if you’re a distance runner, a jumper or a thrower. Above all, we’re Hawkeyes. We really have embraced that mentality and we’re a very close-knit group and I really like that.”
Hairston knows what it means to be a true Hawkeye. He was raised by a family of them.