Run, Run as Fast as You Can (and Even Faster)
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2012 - 13:38
Photo courtesy of Ben Scheetz '12
Ben Scheetz was named the National Track Athlete of the Year two consecutive years.

Ben Scheetz is really fast, and that’s probably an understatement. Sprinting 800 meters in less than 1:48, Scheetz is a two-time National Track Athlete of the Year, holder of two Division III records in 800m and 4x400m, captain of the track & field team and member of the cross country team. When not running, Scheetz can be found studying Physics or working with the Peruvian Education Initiative. Known to his coaches, professors and peers as a hard-worker, role-model and mentor, Scheetz applies his goal-oriented mentality to all aspects of his life.

Dreaming Big
Straight from the heart of Amish Country in Lancaster, Pa., Scheetz admits that Amherst was “under his radar” for most of the college-application process — he submitted athletic information and an application, but he knew very little about the College. This changed, however, when his current coach at Amherst, Erik Nedeau, contacted him and invited him up for a visit.

Nonetheless, Scheetz maintains that his choice of Amherst has been largely serendipitous, explaining his decision as “good luck — fate, mostly.”

Right away, Scheetz took to running with a disarming level of confidence and commitment. In describing Scheetz’s positive attitude, Nedeau said: “He is confident about what he can do — both in practice and in races. And while it irked some people in the early stages of his running career here, he was always able to back it up. I have never had a problem with someone being confident, as long as they could back up what they talked about and Ben has always done that. While some could confuse it for arrogance, he is not afraid to say what he wants to achieve as he responds well to backing that up.”

From the start, Scheetz knew he wanted to go for the gold. Christopher Erickson ’12 remembers that during their first year on the team, Scheetz would talk incessantly about running a 1:48 (one minute and forty-eight seconds) on the 800-meter sprint (800m), even though he had never ran faster than 1:53 before.

“Five seconds is a lot of time to drop in this event,” Erickson said.

Nevertheless, by his junior year, Scheetz had indeed run a 1:48. This year, he broke the Division III all-time record with his astounding 1:47.43 performance at the 2012 New England Indoor Track & Field Championships, smashing the previous record by almost half a second — a significant difference in fast-paced events like the 800m.

A Legend on the Track
It was no easy road to victory for Scheetz, however. Scheetz’s teammates and coaches alike emphasized Scheetz’s unparalleled work ethic and commitment to running, a mindset that helped Scheetz focus on improving his talents even while balancing the pressures of a rigorous Amherst education.

Teammate Charles Reighard ’14 gushed, “not once in all the days I have trained with him has Ben not given 100 percent of his effort and focus to the task at hand. Every athlete works hard, but the degree of focus that Ben puts in to his sport is unparalleled. It’s focus that can only be truly appreciated after spending a long period of time with him, since it is the constant relentlessness of his work ethic that defines him.”

This incredible devotion to self-improvement has made Scheetz a role model for others on the team. According to teammate Adron Pitmon ’13, “over the past three years Ben has set the standard on our team in terms of his commitment and effort level and challenged the rest of us to match it.” Even when he was injured or tired, Scheetz was always ready to work out and give running his all. Erickson mentioned that Scheetz “is a tremendously hard worker. He lifts weights like a sprinter during cross-country season and during summer training, which is remarkable because you run a lot of miles during these seasons. Most people’s legs are dead; Scheetz is doing hang cleans. Moreover, he would always welcome people to join him.”

In the same vein, teammate Pitmon said that Scheetz’s intensity and positive attitude serves as an inspiration for the entire team. “His presence has a palpable effect on the rest of the team. He forces everyone to raise the level of their focus and effort during practice. On a personal level, he’s raised the level of my ambition in athletics, as well as life. When you spend time around someone as driven and ambitious as Scheetz, those qualities begin to rub off on you,” he said.

By his senior year, Scheetz had become somewhat of a legend in the track community. “The expectations for him kept rising throughout his athletic career, and, remarkably, it became the norm for him to achieve them,” Reighard said. Challenging even Division I powerhouses such as Univ. of Connecticut’s Mike Rutt, Scheetz captivated the attention of even his opponents.

Reighard continued, “Soon not only his teammates would come to cheer for him, but every single person at a meet would turn to the track to watch him, knowing something spectacular is bound to happen. This is something very rare in our sport, and I could tell you dozens of stories where entire field houses became captivated by his races.”

Ask anyone, and they will say that Scheetz’s performances are spectacular and beyond comparison. Erickson recounted Scheetz’s dramatic comeback during the final round of the relay 2012 New England Indoor Track Championships, “Amherst had fallen behind by roughly 50-60 meters by the time Scheetz got the baton. He was running the anchor leg. During his four laps, he was reeling people in and passing them. Everybody’s chanting, ‘Scheetz, Scheetz, Scheetz.’ Middlebury’s anchor was still in the lead on the last lap, and he is pretty fast himself…Scheetz goes into beast mode, puts the team on his back, catches the Middlebury guy and passes him at the line to win the heat. It was one of the most unreal performances I’ve ever seen.”

Struggles and Triumphs
This past winter, Scheetz faced two of his greatest challenges, both as an individual, student and athlete. First, he had worked hard all of fall semester to write a senior thesis in Physics, but over Interterm, he realized that it would be impossible to put adequate effort into the thesis while focusing on his running. He knew he couldn’t give up something as important to him as running, and after much thought and consideration, he came to the difficult decision to drop his thesis. Second, shortly before the Indoor Track & Field National Championships, Scheetz suffered a foot injury that turned out to be his toughest opponent.

Nedeau explained, “Despite his failure to advance to the finals in either the mile or the 800, which ended his quest to be a double winner at NCAA’s, he seemed remarkably poised and in control. I knew it hurt and knew that it was not easy for him but he handled it so well and did not let it bother him, and it truly showed me how much he has grown and matured.”

Vindication for Scheetz came three days later, when he learned that he had been named National Athlete of the Year in Indoor Track for the second year in a row. Scheetz’s list of awards, trophies and accolades seems endless: he was the 2012 recipient of the Howard Hill Mossman Trophy for honor in athletics, 2011 National Champion in 800m and 4x400m relay, Most Outstanding Performer at the 2011 National Championships and more. The list could go on for a while.

Away from the Track
Despite his accomplishments in track, there is much more to Scheetz than his amazing athletic ability. Teammate Patrick Grimes ’13 said of Scheetz, “Anyone would attest that at heart he is a huge nerd.” When not on the track, Scheetz can be found studying Physics or jamming out to K-pop. Assistant coach Stephen Shashy ’08 fondly remembers late-night trips to Steak ’n Shake and said, “For all his intensity and confidence on the track, I’d say that, as a person, Ben actually exhibits a certain degree of shyness. He also, I think when you get right down to it, exhibits a striking level of generosity. And he’s got a quirky sense of humor with just a touch of tactlessness that is a lot of fun to be around once you sort of figure it out.”

In the classroom and the study room, Scheetz was known for his strong opinions and firm convictions. Erickson, who took Professor Robert Townsend’s The Moral Essay with Scheetz, remembers one incident in the King second-floor common room: “We were writing our paper about Montaigne…together. Scheetz got angry about Montaigne’s inconsistencies, his contradictions. He slammed him in the paper. When Scheetz believes that he’s right, it’s always fun to listen to him about his position. He gets really adamant… The man has opinions that he eagerly defends. When we talked about that class, it was often ‘Scheetz knows best.’ Frequently he does.”

Running to a Bright Future
After graduation, Scheetz plans to devote himself completely to running, and he hopes to surpass his current achievements. After that, he is unsure what he’ll do, but said that he was confident that he will be able to succeed: “I know Amherst has given me a set of tools that will allow me to perform well at whatever I do, be it medicine, physics, finance, etc.”

If you haven’t gotten the picture already, his teammate Erickson sums up his impression of Scheetz: “Scheetz is a tremendously hard worker who always wants to win and usually does win. He’s confident. He’ll talk a bunch, but he also listens really well. Most importantly, he’s a great teammate and a great friend.”