Running down a dream

When running, it’s often a good idea to save your best for the last stretch of the race. Throughout his career at Oakland University, Jason Bigelow did just that.

In late April, at the Jesse Owens Track Classic in Columbus, Ohio, the senior long-distance runner placed an impressive fifth with a time of 3:47.09 in the 1500-meter run.

With that finish, he had set a new school record, something he had done several times before in his career.

After a week of waiting, however, the news that he had earned Oakland’s first-ever NCAA Championships bid for track and field was the ultimate award.

“It was a dream come true to qualify for the NCAA Championships,” Bigelow said. “It had always been a dream of mine to qualify, although I knew the chance of it actually happening was small. Once I realized that I qualified, it made the entire five years of hard work that I put in completely worth it.”

Before he ran in the NCAA preliminary round in mid-June, Bigelow had one more record to add to his astonishing list of athletic accomplishments.

The Clio native secured his place in the Summit League record books with a championship meet record time of 3:47.96 in the 1500-meter. After that race, Bigelow was done with Summit League competition and on his way to the track field preliminary round in Greensboro, N.C. on May 27.

As if being the first Golden Grizzly track and field athlete to represent the school on the national level wasn’t pressure-packed enough, running alongside other extremely accomplished athletes was another matter for Bigelow.

“I don’t really have a ton of experience racing in championship-style races and it showed at the NCAA Championships.  It seemed like the guys in my heat were ready for any type of race,” Bigelow said. “It was quite intimidating to be racing next to people like Andrew Wheating (Oregon), who ran the 800 m in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics and has four NCAA championships, and Lee Emanuel (New Mexico), who has two NCAA championships of his own.”

Overall, Bigelow finished eighth, automatically qualifying for the NCAA quarterfinals just two days later. He continued his torrid pace on the track, finishing fourth in his heat and 14th overall in quarterfinal competition.

With the top five runners from both heats as well as the next two best times advancing to the semifinals, Bigelow found himself among the nation’s top 24 runners competing in the NCAA National Championship semifinals in Eugene, Ore.

In his final race wearing the Black and Gold, Bigelow finished 23rd in the 1,500-meter with a time of 3:53.62.

With that finish, Bigelow’s magical run to the NCAA National Championship ended in the semifinals, but not before he completed the program’s most impressive stretch of track performances.

“Obviously when you talk about the national level, it’s a new experience for us, and to have a student-athlete qualify for nationals in just our fifth year of having a program is pretty exciting,” Paul Rice, track and cross country coach, said.

“You look at someone like Jason Bigelow, he’s had a long career at Oakland, had some ups and downs, worked super hard through a lot of adversity, and I couldn’t have painted a better picture for the end of his senior year. It’s really been exciting to be a part of that ride with him.”

His achievements didn’t go unnoticed, as Bigelow earned All-Summit League honors, as well as being named OU Athlete of the Week twice in the past month alone.

The success seen by Bigelow this season is unprecedented, and despite injuries earlier on in his career, he has been able to continually have success at the collegiate level. Bigelow went through periods of success and frustration during his first two years on campus before taking the next step as a junior.

“When he hit that third year of running for the program, I think we saw that we really had a special athlete in our program,” Rice said. “He had a few injuries in his career that held him back a little bit, but later in his career he really started to shine for us. He came back in 2009, won the DMR Indoors, really had some good confidence, and that was a big turning point in his career.”

While Bigelow has achieved plenty on the individual level, he has also shared in success on the team level.

During OU’s indoor track season in late February, Bigelow, along with seniors Michael Flemming, Kevin Luce, and junior David Magnotte, set a league and school record in the distance medley relay with a time of 10:01.32 at the Summit League Championship.

While this season was his last at OU, Bigelow is optimistic about the future of the program that came into existence the first year he became a Golden Grizzly in 2005.

“It’s great to see how far the Oakland track and field team has come in the last five years,” Bigelow said. “While I’m the first person to qualify, I’m just paving the way for other OU athletes to qualify in the future.  Right now we have many quality young athletes that can potentially qualify in the future, so that’s great to see.”