Running Helps Cure SEC Champion Engels' Restlessness
May 25, 2016
By Dylan Edwards, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Craig Engels' two years at Ole Miss have been highly successful. Two weeks ago, he became the first Rebel to be crowned SEC Champion in the 1500 meters. The Pfafftown, North Carolina, native has earned first team All-America honors indoors and second-team status outdoors. At one point, however, he almost chose a completely different life path that did not involve running track at all.
Before transferring to Ole Miss, Engels ran track at North Carolina State for two years, where he battled injuries for the duration of his time there.
"My freshman year, I was mountain biking one time and fell down," Engels said. "I actually tore the ligament in my elbow, so I had to get Tommy John surgery. That knocked me out for so long. When I came back, I tried to come back too hard and kept getting injured."
The battle with injuries took away the enjoyment of running for Engels to the point where he legitimately considered giving it up all together and just being a regular student for the rest of his time in college.
"Being injured on and off for two-and-a-half years wasn't very fun," Engels said. "I think I only ran five races while I was at NC State. I was ready to go to Appalachian State, call it quits, live with my friends and enjoy college."
In fact, after asking for his release from NC State, he had already thought of a potential living situation if he had decided to give up the idea of running in college. Engels purchased a $1,700 RV with the expectation of fixing it up and living out of it.
"If I had gone to Appalachian State, I was just going to bring the RV up there and live in my friend's backyard," he said. "It's still sitting in my parents' front yard."
Engels' plan for the rest of his college days took another turn when, upon the advice of his high school coach, he reached out to Ole Miss distance coach Ryan Vanhoy, a fellow North Carolina native. Vanhoy convinced him to join the Rebels' squad.
"I thought, `I guess I could give running one more shot,'" Engels remembers. "If it doesn't work out, what's the difference in wasting six more months in college?"
As it turned out, that change of scenery was exactly what Engels needed to succeed. After those two years of battling injuries in Raleigh, Engels regained confidence and has excelled in Oxford.
"Vanhoy was willing to give me another chance when I was on the brink of quitting and hadn't run a good time in two years," Engels said. "I figured if he buys into my talent, I guess I'll buy back into it again."
"He brings a light approach and just a light sense of humor to our program, which has been good to keep things fresh," said Vanhoy about Engels. "There's always something happening that might make me mad one minute, but I'm laughing about it five minutes later.
"On a personal level, he's someone that people on the team look up to. He sets an example that people can follow, which may not have been the case initially, but he's put himself in a position now where he's certainly one of our leaders."
Purchasing an RV and mountain biking gives some insight to Engels' personality. He's not happy unless he's doing something.
"The few conflicts that Vanhoy and I have had were about my restlessness," Engels said. "That doesn't really coincide with the professional running lifestyle. Most of those guys just sit inside and watch Netflix, not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm a little more antsy. I always like to be doing something with my hands or fixing up boats."
He's able to combat some of that restlessness while running, as it gives him an outlet to explore and escape the mundane.
"One of my favorite things in the world when I'm traveling somewhere is to run around the area and find out all the things I'd never see if I didn't have running," Engels said. "When it gets a little monotonous and we run on the same trails every day, that's when I start to resent running."
As it turns out, Engels is a very talented runner. The 2015 indoor track season, his first as a Rebel, saw him run the 1600-meter leg on the Rebels' SEC Champion distance medley relay team and earn All-SEC first team honors. Since then, it's been more of the same: another SEC title and a third-place national finish in the DMR in 2016 and then the SEC 1500-meter title. He is one of the favorites in the 1500 to advance past this weekend's NCAA East Preliminary round and onto nationals in Eugene, Oregon.
Over time, the mindset he had when he decided to come to Oxford has drastically changed.
"Now my goals have changed completely," Engels said. "I want to make the Olympic team for the United States of America. A year-and-a-half ago, I was thinking about quitting running completely. It's crazy. Life goes by so fast that I didn't get to sit down and think about how lucky I got with this opportunity and how blessed I am."
And who knows, he still has time after he finishes garnering more track accolades to finish up that RV project that he postponed.
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