One More Goal
June 2, 2009
By Larry Watts
Nate Larkin has one simple goal he wants to accomplish before his University of Wisconsin track career is completed. It's a lofty one, but one the Glen Ellyn, Ill. native believes he can attain.
"I want to be an All-American," he says. "I still remember Nutty (head coach Ed Nuttycombe) taking me up to his office on my visit and talking about what it means to run for Wisconsin. He pulled out a media guide and showed me a list of walk-ons who eventually became All-Americans.
"So each year I have kept building and building. I never thought I would be at the point of making All-American a reality, but I wanted it. That's one accolade you can't argue with.
"I want to make it to the national meet now because I don't want to chance it on next year," the junior adds. "There's too much room for injuries to affect stuff, so when the chance is there, you need to take advantage of it. This is my big chance."
For the first time in his Badger track career, Larkin has had an injury-free year. He posted a personal best of 7.87 in the 60-meter hurdles, fourth-best in school history, during the indoor season and went on to place third at the Big Ten Indoor Championships and 11th in the NCAA Championships. His 14.00 earlier at the NCAA Regional meet in the 110 hurdles stands eighth in the school record books and he clocked a second-place time of 14.23 in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.
Larkin believes he could have done better at the NCAA Indoor Championships had he been more prepared.
"I thought my indoor season was over after the Big Ten meet," he says. "I went into the weight room and did a real hard workout on Monday to start building my base for the outdoor season. Then I got a call on Tuesday from Nutty telling me I had earned the last at-large spot for the national meet.
"I thought, 'Great. I've just done a bust-your-ass workout and now I have to be ready to run by Friday.' If I had known sooner, things would have been a lot different, but there's always next year."
When Larkin was offered a chance to walk on with the Wisconsin program, he said it was a "win, win, win situation."
"Not only does Wisconsin have a history of top-notch teams, but coach Nutty is one of the best hurdle coaches in the nation. He coached Reggie Torian, who was the world record holder indoors until this year. So this was an opportunity to go to a Big Ten school with top academics and one of the best track programs at the same time.
"I like the fact Nutty isn't real strict with what I do each day and gives me room to figure out what I need to happen. A lot of coaches will point out a million things you did wrong whereas Nutty just focuses on one thing I need to correct. He's been there before and has coached so many good hurdlers that he knows the little things that can make you faster."
With a three-inch height difference in the hurdles from high school to college, Larkin took a redshirt in his first season as he learned to make the adjustment. He was also competing in the 400 hurdles until this year.
"I'm a pretty big guy to be running the 400," says the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder. "Coach is always telling me I need to cut weight, but I have these big legs that don't give me a chance to get much lighter and my legs are actually my strength. As long as I'm going fast, I could care less how much I weigh."
Larkin's constant dedication to improvement hasn't gone unnoticed in the Wisconsin track program. Not only was he placed on scholarship this season, but he was also named one of the team captains.
"I didn't know I was going to be placed on scholarship," the sociology major says. "They gave me three years to show my stuff and I was fortunate to be rewarded for my hard work and persistence. On a team, you have to earn it and that's the way I want it. So many talented people on this team surround you, so it's a real gift to get a scholarship on this team. We'll see if they give it back to me next year.
"And to be named a captain is a real confidence booster because it shows people around you view you as one of the leaders. It does put pressure on you to step up your game and lead by example. This is a hard sport to be a captain in because we all train at so many different times."
The Mideast Regional in Louisville May 29-30 marked the third straight year Larkin has qualified in the 110 hurdles for an NCAA Regional. He finished sixth in the region by a mere .07 seconds with the top five finishers automatically earn berths to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. June 10-13. Larkin does have the 24th best time of the year and still has a chance at being an at-large addition to the field.
"I just need to run a good and clean race," he says. "If I make it to Nationals, who knows what can happen? The great thing about hurdles is you can surprise a lot of people.
"There aren't many events where you come out of the blocks full speed at an obstacle that is 42 inches high. When you're doing that and add in nine guys left and right of you doing the same thing, it can get pretty chaotic. It's a dance and if you take one misstep or lose focus for one second, it will punish you because it is such an unforgiving event. You have to go in with a fighter's mentality and can't afford to be standoffish."
And it's a fight where Larkin believes he can obtain his All-American reward.