Cross Country Without Cam/Cam Without Cross Country
No one had heard of Cam Levins before cross country. And without it, we probably never would have.
by The Trailer
CEDAR CITY – Let’s just come out and say it: Cam Levins, a U.S. fan favorite despite his nationality (count the hearts he broke when it was discovered the normal-looking 23-year-old was actually—Gasp!— from Black Creek, B.C.), had zero buzz before the 2011 NCAA Cross Country season, where he finished fourth.
Which is understandable. Because before he was fourth in NCAA cross country, before he won the 2012 NCAA 10,000-meters, before he stormed back two days later to win the 5,000m, and before he competed in both events in the 2012 London Olympics, Cam “MF” Levins seemed to spring fully formed from the thin air of Southern Utah University.
But truth is, Levins was made out of the mud of World Cross Country.
Levins was originally recruited by Thunderbirds coach Eric Houle to be someone that could bridge the gap his athletes left as they went gallivanting across the world for their two-year missions as part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “He was just an average guy,” Houle remembers.
And that’s how it started. But Levins’ talent began to emerge, and during the 2010-11 season, while he was red-shirted—S.O.P. for any athlete that has aspirations beyond conference, Houle says—an opportunity came for him to run the Canadian Cross Country Championships. Which could lead to a spot on the North American, Central American, and Caribbean Championships (NACAC) team. Which could lead to a spot on the 2011 World Cross Country Championships team.
Which is exactly what happened.
“If you don’t increase things during the redshirt year, it’s a waste. And that being said, they need to be racing. They need to keep gaining that experience about racing,” says Houle. “When he wanted to go to Canada to race in the Nationals, then to go to North American [NACAC], and to go to Worlds: absolutely. I would be insane not to encourage that.”
And so Levins, pink-faced and wide-eyed, was thrown into the deepest distance race in the world. In his first World Cross Country Championships, held in 2011 in Punta Umbria, Spain, he finished 56th. From that moment, everything—2011 NCAA cross country, two NCAA outdoor titles, and the Olympics—had its start.
“You see times posted, and you can watch videos, but it’s not really the same until you actually go and race with athletes,” Levins says. “[World Cross] showed me how good the world really is, and that it was possible to become that good.”
It’s one thing to “know” how fast the best athletes in the world are, Levins says. But it’s totally different to race them, to feel that speed firsthand.
“In a lot of ways, it just inspired me to work harder and believe that much more in myself,” he says. “Although I was a ways off the athletes at the World Championships, I still felt like that seemed attainable. That feels reachable.“
Cam Levins is not racing cross country this October for the first time in a long time. Graduating in the spring, he remains with Houle in Cedar City, and now that the fall is his summer, he’s logging the base mileage he’s famous for.
But though he’s not racing with his team, it doesn’t mean he’ll be leaving cross country behind. He’ll be pursuing a spot on another World Cross team beginning at the Canadian championships on November 24 in Vancouver, B.C.
“He gets it, that cross country has meant a lot to him,” Houle says. “He understands that that kind of training, that kind of competition you experience, is a stepping stone to greater things.
“You don’t just end up at the Olympic Games. It’s a process.”
Cam “MF” Levins is on Twitter, so you should get on that.