26-year-old WWU senior competes in final collegiate race at NCAA II nationals
Nov. 17, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - It's not the age, it's the miles for Western's Cannon
By DAVID RASBACH -- THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
As a 26-year old senior, Western Washington University's Tyler Cannon has heard pretty much every joke and received a host of nicknames from his teammates on the men's cross country team.
"Oh, they definitely haze me," Cannon said in a phone interview. "'Old Man Winter' is one of the nicknames they call me - it's probably the most appropriate one, at least. It fits well. I do feel like I'm the old guy on the team. They constantly remind me of that, but it's a lot of fun, too."
Let's call Cannon the most "experienced" runner on the team - and not necessarily because of his age or the number of times he's run competitively.
Cannon has taken a long, winding route to get to this point, as he prepares to compete in his final collegiate cross country meet Saturday, Nov. 17, at Joplin, Mo., when he and the Vikings men compete in the NCAA Division II National Championships.
Tenth-ranked WWU is looking for a fifth-straight top-10 finish, as the Vikings are making their sixth straight trip to nationals.
"Our biggest goal is to improve on where we placed last year," Cannon said. "We were 10th last year, and we think we can get top eight this year."
"We need at least our top five runners to be in the top 75 overall," Halsell said in a phone interview. "It would be nice if we can get all seven there, so that we can start picking a few guys off."
Cannon, who finished 15th at last week's NCAA Division II West Regional in Hawaii, has developed into a solid No. 2, 3 or 4 runner for the Vikings, though he's actually only in his second year with the program.
After a strong high school career at Kamiakin, which concluded with a 44th-place finish at the 2003 Class 4A State Championships, Cannon elected to go to Brigham Young University.
He tried walking on for the cross country team as a freshman, but said "it didn't work out."
During what should have been his sophomore year, Cannon left on what he expected to be a two-year mission to Buenos Ares, Argentina, for the Mormon Church.
"I was still running on my own down there, but I started to get some stomach pains and got really sick," Cannon said.
The pain persisted for about two months and continued to get worse.
"I spiked a fever, and I was having problems walking from point A to point B," Cannon said. "I knew it was time to see a doctor."
Though he'd heard "stories about some of the doctors in the boonies" in Argentina, Cannon said he received real good care in Buenos Ares, and doctors diagnosed him with Chron's disease, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
The church decided to send him home a week after the diagnosis in February of 2006.
Cannon said he tried to continue training during the summer and fall after he got home, but each time he did he'd get a lot of swelling in his stomach.
"Since I wasn't able to seriously train, we decided in (September of) '07 to have surgery," Cannon said. "They removed about 3 to 4 inches of my intestine. Once I healed up, I started to train again, and I started to get fast."
Once his times started dropping, Cannon approached the BYU coaching staff about trying out for the team again.
"My coach was nice about it," Cannon said. "He said you've only got a season or two left. He gave me the goal of running 15 minutes for a 5K, and he'd think about it. So in track that spring, I ran a 15:04, and he started looking at me more seriously when I started to get close. But that summer, I started to feel sick again, and that made me nervous, so I had to back off my training and get on some medication. I wasn't anywhere in shape by the time the fall rolled around, so it just didn't work out."
But Cannon never lost his desire to compete on the collegiate level.
He also decided at the time to switch his major from finance, "because of the recession," to start preparing for either dental or medical school.
"Western had already had quite a bit of success in cross country," Cannon said. "I still had my Washington residency, so I was looking for a school in state that I could run for. I still had some eligibility left for Division II, so I felt this was my best choice as far as running program and academics."
And the Vikings have been glad he made that choice.
"He's done really well this fall," Halsell said. "I think at the regional meet, he ran real well. He moved up to our No. 2 runner. He was our No. 3 or 4 - usually our No. 3. ... Last year, he came in as our No. 1 runner, until Dak came along and really progressed. Then he got really sick through the regional meet. That kind of set his confidence back a little for nationals, but he still came back and had a good race (54th)."
Despite last fall's illness and some bumps and bruises that slowed him last spring during the track season, Cannon said he's been symptom free of Chron's disease since the surgery.
"I was told when I had the surgery, that 10 percent (of Chron's patients) never have symptoms again," Cannon said. "It's been five years since the surgery and still no symptoms, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed."
That's allowed him to step forward and have a good senior season for the Vikings this year.
"He's a solid runner," Halsell said. "He's right there. He adds a lot of depth to our team. He's not a breakout runner, but he's really solid. I know his goals are to be an All-American, and I think he's got the talent to do that if he runs well and some breaks go his way."
Cannon said he likes to draw on being an older, more mature runner and hang back a little bit, rather than gas himself in the first couple miles of the race.
"He's in a different place than a lot of the younger runners," Halsell said. "He's more mature. He's got some different experiences. He may not have come in with as much competitive running experience as some of the other guys, but he learns fast."
And despite being three to four years older than the other seniors on Western's roster, Cannon fits in well with the team.
Now he wants to work with his teammates to help make sure they have a strong finish to the season.
"It's great running with these guys," Cannon said. "I really enjoy it. It doesn't matter what age you are. These guys like to give me trouble, but they're all great guys, and we have fun competing together."
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