The Dow Wilson Inspirational Award is one of the most coveted accolades a male Oregon track and field athlete can receive. It’s given annually to the team member who has proven to be inspirational and tenacious through hard work and leadership. Of all the story lines and hard work put in by the men of Oregon this year, two runners stood out — and one of those men was Mac Fleet.
Fleet, a redshirt junior from San Diego, Calif., is seeded number 11 (3:45.08) in the 1,500-meter run for the NCAA Track and Field Championships set to take place at Hayward Field this week, an impressive feat considering his two-year rebound from a navicular bone issue that could have potentially ended his career.
“When you look at what he did,” teammate Ben DeJarnette said, “the amount of time he was out with an injury that really showed no signs of getting better for two years, it speaks to his commitment and dedication that he was able to come back and now have what’s been an amazing season so far.”
Fleet describes his rehabilitation process as humbling. He isn’t afraid to admit the depression that came with being sidelined from his passion for months on end.
“I would get healthy, try to run and end up hurting myself again,” he said. “Then I’d start the process all over. It was frustrating.”
He says his agony only intensified by watching his teammates train and compete without him.
Men’s distance coach Andy Powell says that his similar battle with injury as a student athlete at Stanford played a role in helping guide Fleet back to health, physically and emotionally.
“He was pretty down, and it certainly helped having gone through some of the same struggles he went through,” he said. “Knowing from personal experience the types of things that happen (when you’re injured), I would talk with him.”
He says he remembers seeing Fleet attempt to return to the track multiple times, only to find that the simplest runs left him in acute pain, making it hard for him to revel in his favorite pastime.
“It got to the point where he started enjoying it again, so we worked on getting him fit and got him back out there,” Powell said.
After qualifying for the championships at the western regionals in Austin, Texas, Fleet and his team return to Hayward to finish the year on their home turf and cap off another successful season.
He says he’s excited to come home for the championships as well as to have his parents in the crowd. He and his father share a special bond, being the only father-son pair to both hold California state championship titles.
“It’ll be nice to see my parents watching me again, especially if it’s on this track,” he said. “There’s nowhere like Hayward in the country.”
At 6-foot-3, people look up to him, but not just physically. Over the past few years, he has proven to be a dedicated leader by example, and the Dow Wilson award is a recognition of the facet of his personality that coaches, teammates and friends see every day.
“I think Mac is a natural leader,” DeJarnette said. “He’s a guy that even as a freshman felt at ease being someone people would look up to.”