Cross Country

Going the distance: Whelan leads 9th-ranked Orange in quest for ACC championship

Chase Gaweski | Photo Editor

Joseph Whelan was Syracuse's top finisher in the Harry Lang Invitational on Sept. 7, claiming fifth overall with a time of 20:34.90 in the 6400 meter run.

While racing in the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship on Nov. 12, 2011, Joseph Whelan started shifting his weight from right to left.

Less than a mile into a 10,000-meter race, Whelan glanced down toward his right heel and noticed something peculiar.

His shoe was loosening with each successive stride.

Whelan finally lost his shoe, but he pushed himself forward to secure a qualifying spot in the NCAA Championship for the Syracuse cross-country program.

“Our team was struggling in the regional qualifier a little bit,” head coach Chris Fox said. “Joe ended up finishing that race with one shoe and helped us get to the [NCAA Championship]. That shows you a lot of character.”

Whelan’s determination earned him a respectable 10th-place finish, good enough to qualify Syracuse for the cross-country national championships. In finishing the race, Whelan displayed a team-first mentality, refusing to let a wardrobe malfunction ruin
SU’s outcome.

During his SU career, Whelan has blossomed into an influential role model, molded by his unique ability to overcome adversity. Whelan learned valuable lessons from his hardships, and used his experience to become a vocal team leader. Having dealt with a plethora of injuries, Whelan has returned to full health this season and will serve as one of the anchors of the cross-country team.

Whelan’s passion for cross-country came from his father Brian Whelan’s deep love for running. Brian Whelan, who ran marathons as a member of the Navy, was constantly training to stay in shape. Whelan said he paid close attention to his father’s thorough and regimented work ethic.

“He was the man in the house,” Whelan said. “He was always out going running and working hard, so it taught me to work hard for everything.”

Whelan’s mother, Andrea Whelan, took Joseph to see his first-ever race in Buffalo when he was 10 years old. It was here that he faced his first true test of character.

Whelan crept up to the starting line where his father was preparing for the 5,000-meter trek across a particularly hilly course. He wanted to run alongside his father, but Brian Whelan had other ideas, refusing to let Joseph participate.

“No, not this race,” his father warned. “You’re not ready.”

The gun sounded, and Brian Whelan took off across the uneven landscape. He peered over his shoulder to check on Joseph, who was supposed to be standing with his mother.

But he wasn’t there. Joseph was gliding stride-for-stride across the rigorous terrain, eager to prove his father wrong.

“The gun went off, and I ran it anyways,” Whelan said.

Whelan prided himself in displaying a hard-nosed attitude like his father. Whelan used that mentality to begin crafting his exceptional leadership at Hamburg High School, where he served as the cross-country team captain.

Whelan frequently placed a high emphasis on his role as a team leader, which speaks to his unselfish, caring personality. As a junior, Whelan ran the sectional meet with a broken foot, qualifying Hamburg (N.Y.) High School for its first appearance in the statewide meet in 30 years.

As a senior, Whelan missed his prom and graduation because he decided to compete in the Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Oregon.

“He always worried about everyone else besides himself,” Andrea Whelan said. “He was so determined to succeed and help the other kids.”

When Whelan first arrived in Syracuse, he said he struggled with the transition to college life. He had more free time on his hands, and didn’t have a mentor to give him advice, such as how to establish a training regimen or which vitamins to take daily.

“Usually when they’re freshmen, they do dumb kid stuff. They’re not very professional in their approach to the sport,” Fox said. “Joe had his struggles … but each year he’s taken on more responsibility.”

Whelan embraced that responsibility and continued to develop his maturity, which allowed him to be more professional in his approach to running.

Fox described Whelan as SU’s vocal leader, even though he has never been the most articulate person. Rather, Whelan expresses his caring, sensitive nature through his actions, allowing him to lead by example.

“He’s figured it out now,” Fox said. “He’s one of the anchors of our team.”

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