Oct. 3, 2007
by Jeff Smith
It's MacTaggart family tradition that every Christmas, when rarely anyone is out in the streets in Glen Elyn, Ill., father Chris will take sons Bruce and Eric out for a holiday run, while mother Barbara tags along. Running is a common bond in the family, as Chris ran collegiately at Northern Illinois and Bruce and Eric currently run for the University of Iowa.
The two brothers have used running as a way to strengthen their relationship even more, having each gained a scholarship to run at Iowa for Larry Wieczorek. But as the Hawkeye head coach points out, in sitting the pair next to each other or having them run side-by-side on the course, you probably wouldn't even know they were brothers.
"Eric is much taller than Bruce and both of them have different styles of running," Wieczorek said. "Eric is tall, lean, long-legged and more of a 5K-10K (5,000-10,000 meters) runner. Bruce is a little smaller, but more explosive at the finish and better at the mid-distance races."
Another difference the Iowa mentor points out is just how different the two brothers' first experience was on campus. Eric, a redshirt senior, came to Iowa City and contributed immediately. He competed in all eight races and was the Hawkeyes' second finisher in five races. The freshman was 16th at Big Ten Championships (24:40), 28th at NCAA Midwest Regional (31:24.02) and 59th at NCAA Championships (32:27).
"Eric came in and was a success right away, but Bruce started out much rougher," Wieczorek said.
Bruce is a redshirt freshman who did not compete last year due to a bad back and a bout with mono. Just two weeks into his college career, the younger MacTaggart fell ill and was sent home for a week. There are not many things more intimidating than falling behind so fast in your first few weeks of college. Luckily, Bruce's older brother was always around to help him out.
"My brother had a rough transition to college and I had an easy one," said Eric, who admits his freshman year was most likely his smoothest and most problem-free year. "He got back (from mono) and was behind in his classes, so I tried to hang around him more in the first semester. I used to visit him in the dorms quite a bit last year."
However, now Bruce is the one in the Hawkeye lineup, while Eric is taking the season off. A music education major, Eric is required to spend one semester with the Iowa marching band.
"Eric wants to teach music in high school and had to do be away one fall semester to meet his requirements, so he is doing that this year," Wieczorek said. "Bruce was our fourth man last week and he is just starting to get back into things."
This past weekend the Hawkeyes finished second at the Loyola Lakefront Invitational in Chicago, where Bruce finished 23rd with a time of 25:31. Finally having earned that spot in the lineup, along with the fact he was able to compete in front of some fans from home this past week, has Bruce focused on getting into that rhythm that all runners look for.
"My workouts have been decent, but the first two races for me weren't like the ones I had in high school," Bruce said. "I've struggled a little getting into the rhythm because I'm used to running 5K races instead of 8K."
But despite not having his older brother on the team this season, Bruce always knows he has someone close to talk to.
"Eric is always there with moral support," he said. "It always nice to have someone behind you to support you...even though he's always in front of me (when we run)."
For the older MacTaggart, he takes some pride in the recruitment of Bruce to Iowa City. He told Wieczorek to keep an eye on his little brother because he knew how good of a runner he would be in college. Trusting the bloodlines perhaps, Wieczorek offered the younger MacTaggart a scholarship to join the Hawkeyes.
"Sometimes you see families where everyone is different, but some flow in the bloodlines," Wieczorek said of the MacTaggart family's running ability.
Last year's cross country campaign was very much a success for Eric. He showed off his running ability by recording his collegiate-best 8,000-meters time of 24:34 at Pre-Nationals, which ranks second in school history and then added a 10th-place finish at the Big Ten Championships. However the injury bug hit him last February, forcing him to redshirt the track season as well. The injury, added with the summer vacation and now the schedule conflicts with band, has forced him to train on his own.
"I'm working my way back on my own right now because of the schedule conflicts," Eric said. "I miss not being able to train with my teammates."
If things work out soon, Eric might be able to spend a lot more time with one particular teammate. While the two brothers are currently enjoying a little free space of their own, the elder sibling notes that he hopes Bruce will be able to move in with him later this year. He notes the plans are not definite, but believes it would be a good thing overall.
"It's nice to have family so close by," Eric said.
The two MacTaggart brothers have always been close. According to Bruce, the two siblings began competing in soccer when they were younger, but switched to running following junior high. Both are accomplished musicians, although Eric is the only one pursuing a career in it. Bruce is an engineering major, but has not forgotten how to play.
"(Eric) plays trombone and that's what I started out at, but I switched to tuba in high school," Bruce said. "We have an uncle who plays trombone in the Army band, so we would have duo and trio performances at home during Christmas."
Whether it is playing music, running competitively, or just checking up on one another on campus, Bruce and Eric MacTaggart seem happy to be able to do it all together.
Just as brothers do.