He found himself running from wrestling Johnston's switch a bonus for W. Md.

November 03, 1992|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

Derek Johnston was a freshman at Western Maryland College when he decided he would rather run than fight.

Johnston is not a coward.

It's just that he prefers being the No. 1 cross country runner for the Green Terrors to being a lightweight wrestler for the school.

"I got tired of cutting weight all the time," said Johnston, who battled constantly to qualify for the 134-pound class before quitting the wrestling team and going out for cross country as a sophomore.

Staying at 134 was especially tough for Johnston because his body frame was growing, and he had gone from 98 pounds as a freshman in high school to 140 pounds as a freshman in college.

As a senior (junior in cross country eligibility), Johnston now checks in at 5 feet 10, 155 pounds.

"Also my grades were dropping and I needed the competitiveness of an individual sport like cross country," said the product of Howard County's Hammond High. "I know wrestling is an individual sport but there is a lot of emphasis on the team."

So Johnston gave up the sport for which Western Maryland had recruited him and changed his approach to running.

Instead of running to stay in shape for wrestling, as he had at Hammond High, Johnston became totally immersed in the sport.

He has already broken two school running records (15:29.6 in the 5,000-meter run and 9:36.47 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase).

Doug Renner coaches both teams at Western Maryland, and has been the lucky recipient of Johnston's running talent.

"Derek has a lot of potential as a runner," said Renner. "I think he has a shot at the nationals this year. He loves individual competition."

To make the Division III nationals, Johnston must finish in the top five in the Mideast Regionals Nov. 14 in Allentown, Pa.

He is ranked 23rd among Division III runners in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. But that's a long way from the top five.

"I'll have to run in the 25s [minutes over 5-mile course] to make the nationals," said Johnston. "And right now my times are in the mid-26s. It will all depend on the weather, the pace of the race and the course. I could do it if everything

falls into place."

The No. 1 Green Terror said he has finished all the hard work for the regionals.

"I'm just relaxing now and cutting back on my work," said Johnston. "I'm pointing to the regionals more than the MAC championships [Nov. 7]."

If he fails to make the nationals this year, Johnston could come back and run next year as a graduate student. He is a senior academically but has a year's eligibility left in cross country.

But he said he plans to graduate in the spring and begin working toward becoming a certified public accountant and that could affect his decision to stay.

If he does opt to return for one more fling, the long-distance runner will hasten Western Maryland's development into a strong cross country program.

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