(An ongoing series of interviews of redwood empire runners by Alex Wolf-Root)
Today we switch over to the men’s side, starting with Reesey Byers from Santa Rosa HS. Reesey was the first Redwood Empire prep to crack the 9-minute barrier for 3,200m, and then went on to set D1 school records at Sacramento State. Reesey is currently training in Sacramento where he represents SRA Elite.
Let’s start with your record-breaking 3,200m. Was sub-9 expected? How did it feel accomplishing such a goal?
I definitely wanted to break 9 minutes, though I was very disappointed with my end result. My proudest race was when I ran 8:19 in the 3,000m and that indicated that I was ready to run low or sub 8:50, but the race did not go as planned at Arcadia. It was still a great experience.
And how does it feel having that record broken just one year later?
I expected Luis [Luna] to break it. I knew he had the talent and the drive. It was great to watch him beat it live. I was happy for him.
Well you certainly had talent and drive as well. You were a stud at SRHS from the start. How did your time as a Panther turn you into the standout runner you are today?
The better I got, the more driven I became. One person I definitely give credit for my success today is Rory McLeod. He was my inspiration and a great teammate. I looked up to him so much and watching him run I thought “Wow, I would love to be as fast as him one day!” I had other great teammates as well and we pushed each other day after day. Also I had amazing high school coaches. They invested a lot of time in me and helped me grow each year.
In your mind, what are the highlights of your Panther career? What, if anything, did you not accomplish that you thought you could, or should?
My highlights were definitely when I ran 8:19 in the 3,000m and 4:11 in the 1,600m. Those were my favorite races by far and also my best performances. They really gave me a lot of confidence. Also making it to state for the first time my junior year in the 3,200m. It was my first time running at that level, and that year I had nearly a minute drop in my best time (despite running 9:06 in lane 3!). As stated before, I definitely think I could have run a faster 3,200m, as well as going sub 4:10 in the 1,600m, but I’m not complaining. I am very happy with my career as a Panther.
And due to it being such a great career, some were a bit surprised that you chose to go to Sacramento State instead of a “bigger” athletic power. How’d that decision come about?
I know, a lot of people were confused, but I knew I would be much happier at Sac State. The decision was between UC Berkeley and Sac State. I felt a stronger team bond with Sac State’s team, and the coaches really showed a lot of interest in me and promised to give individual help as well. I don’t regret my decision to go to Sac State at all.
Well that decision certainly worked out! What was it about that program that brought out the best in you?
My teammates definitely brought out the best in me. I made some of my closest relationships through Sac State’s XC and track teams. I became a better person from the people I met while on the team. And Sac State had a very good track team. We were conference champions across many seasons.
From my point of view in the stands, one highlight was your 5,000m win at the 2013 Stanford Invite. Tell us a bit about that barrier-breaking moment.
It was definitely a mixed feeling. From the workouts I knew I was fit enough to break 14, but actually doing it and winning the race was unbelievable. It was the greatest feeling ever. Although many think I was in 13:30’s shape that year (having closed mile repeats in 4:10-4:15 etc),,,
Despite some great accomplishments, especially your first two years, you had a rough second half of college. Can you tell us a bit about those struggles?
There were several factors that played a roll in the rocky end to my collegiate career. Right after my sub-14 season, I found myself undergoing a coaching change that was very difficult on me mentally, especially right after a very successful season. I then had a life changing illness in the fall of my last year. I had a staph infection that was in the bones and disks of my lower back and in my blood stream. It was literally killing me from the inside, and it was misdiagnosed for six weeks. Eventually I had to be rushed to the emergency room and was hospitalized for about a week. I was then given a central line for another few months and was without exercise for 4 months. Once I was healthy, I tried to save my last track season but, due to missing 4 months of base, I did not have the strength necessary to run very well. I also suffered from a slightly torn hamstring and am still dealing with it to some extent. It’s been a rough ride since last year.
But things seem to be smoothing out now that you’re running post-collegiately. After first running for Strava you’re now with SRA Elite. What’s the post-collegiate journey been like so far?
I knew a few friends that ran for Strava and they really were interested in me, so I joined Strava and loved it. Unfortunately I did not have the immediate access to the support I needed. Being in Sacramento made it difficult for me to take advantage of what they had to offer. I then realized it would be much more beneficial for me to join SRA Elite. I would have immediate access to the support they provided and I would have a team to train with. I am really loving it so far and they take great care of their athletes. I am currently getting some coaching guidance from them and it is working well. I am just getting over my hamstring injury and getting back into great shape.
Going back to the Redwood Empire, we’ve had quite the history of distance runners. Why do you think this small area has turned out so many solid athletes?
That’s a good question. I think part of it is because there are so many good places to run. Running is a popular sport in that area as well. There are many races that are put on in that area that encourage people of all levels to go out, test themselves and have fun.
What would you tell the HS athletes reading this now?
I would tell them to be patient, not to give up, and just have fun. Running takes a lot of hard work but it’s important not to think of it as a job. Have fun with it. Go places that interest you. Chase your dreams. If you want it bad enough, it will come in time. Just keep plugging away, day in day out. There is always room to grow in the sport. Do the little things. To be a successful runner, it’s important to take good care of your body.
What should we expect from Reesey Byers in the future?
I definitely am very driven. My goal is to make the Olympic Trials in the 5,000m. That is my dream. Expect a fast 5,000m this year. Now that I am healthy and taking the right steps to be the best I can be, I think I can really do something special.
Anything else that you want to add?
I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me in my journey to be a successful athlete. It has been a bumpy road but it’s how you deal with and get through the adversities of life that make you a better person, both athletically and in general. I have gone through a lot but my drive and determination keep me going. It is also important to stay hungry and stay humble, because there is no telling what life will throw at you, but as long as you are determined enough, your body will achieve what your mind believes.
Thanks again Reesey, and we can’t wait to see what you do this season, especially come Independence Day!