First UCCS multiple all-American inspires current Mountain Lions

By Doug Fitzgerald published December 10, 2008

Arguably the greatest athlete to compete for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs returned Monday to inspire the current generation of Mountain Lions.

Trent Briney, the first multiple all-American at UCCS and an alternate on the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, spoke to the school's track & field teams about his success at, and more importantly after, his college career.

Briney was a four-time all-American at UCCS who went on to finish fourth at the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon in 2004. He qualified for the trials again in 2008 but was not fully recovered from Achilles tendon surgery and again missed out on being a member of the U.S. Olympic team.

He has already qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials.

For Briney, who now lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., the visit was eye-opening.

"It's exciting to be back on campus," said Briney. "To see a rec center and it has more than one treadmill - we only had one treadmill (when I was here) and that was only seven years ago. All of the new educational buildings are great to see."

He was also impressed by the size of the track team. When he was at UCCS, track operated much like a club sport. There were distance runners, who were also the cross country runners, and just a handful competing in other disciplines.

"To see a hundred people or however many were in the gym today (there were actually 51) for the team picture - it's like not real," he said. "I can't believe that they have that many."

After graduating in 2001, Briney went to compete for the Hanson's Brooks Distance Project, a professional running team in Detroit. While the team helped cover some basic expenses, he still had to work 20-30 hours a week to make ends meet. The team would train every morning as well as most evenings.

All of the hard work was paying off. He finished fourth at the Olympic trials in 2004, making him an alternate for the team. He subsequently qualified for the 2005 world championships, but had to decline because of a nagging back injury.

Despite problems with his Achilles tendon, Briney ran the 2006 Boston Marathon and did well enough to qualify for the 2008 Olympic trials. He had surgery on the tendon a week later. When the trials arrived, though, Briney was still not fully recovered. He estimates that one leg was at just 80 percent while the other was 100 percent.

"My training wasn't there," said Briney. "I had imbalance still, one leg was stronger than the other."

The problem led to stagnation in his training. Greg McMillen, coach of the McMillen Elite club in Flagstaff, saw some of the physical and mental barriers that Briney was struggling with and offered to help.

"I needed a change. I had been in Detroit for 6-7 years and sometimes you need a refresher," said Briney, who joined the club in February. "I missed being near the mountains and the scenery out here - just the culture and climate of being out west is more natural for me."

His training back on pace and feeling every bit as good as he did in 2004, Briney has again set his sights on a runner's ultimate goals - the World championships and the Olympics.

"The real goal is to make the World championships and not have to back out and not be an alternate; to actually go and wear the USA uniform," he said. "I have one hanging in the closet that somebody gave me, but I've never got to compete in it.

"I feel like I have the ability, therefore I have to (do it)."

Because you can, you must. Anything less is wasting ability. It's the mantra of a winner. It's the philosophy that drives an athlete to go from an uninspiring high school hopeful to a Division II all-American to a bona fide Olympic contender. It's a trait that great runners share.

It also gave Briney an instant bond with UCCS coach Mark Misch.

"It's good to meet Mark," said Briney. "It's sad for me that my old coach (Graeme Badher) is gone, but I'm happy that (Misch) knows the sport and is involved with it outside of the college as well and understands the bigger picture of the sport.

"He appreciates what he's doing for the kids and is trying to make it a positive experience for them."

And perhaps inspire one or more to follow the trail that Briney has blazed.

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