Cross-country walk-on finds national success

Austin Miller came to Augustana as a freshman knowing that he would be leaving his life of soccer behind in high school.  But the end of a career in soccer became a new journey in track. 

“I didn’t run cross country at all in high school,” Miller, who is now a senior, said. “I got into contact with the coaches and basically walked onto the team.”

Miller said that he was looking at colleges in the area and knew that there were not a lot of teams for soccer.  He said that track was the smarter thing to do.  

Miller was enticed to join track by a close friend.  Augustana graduate Alec Kray began running track when he started college. 

“Alec was kind of someone I really looked up to, especially my senior year of high school,” Miller said.  

Kray knew that Miller would do well in track.  

“When we were in our senior year in high school and he decided to be on the track team, I was excited as I knew that general soccer fitness translated well into ability on the track,” Kray said. 

Miller said that he admired Kray’s work ethic and that Kray became a mentor to him.  

“He basically threw me into the program,” Miller said. “He’s always been really supportive of me and I think he always knew I was talented…he’s been with me pretty much every step of the way.”  

Miller ran track his freshman year, but once he saw the cross country team practicing, he said that he knew he had to be on the team.  

“I was seeing those guys train every day and I became infatuated with their work ethic,” Miller said. “I asked the coaches to let me onto the cross country team. From then on, I just kinda changed the way I approached the sport.” 

Because he had never done track or cross country before college, the coaches were skeptical about allowing Miller on the cross country team.  Augustana’s cross country team is one of the best in the nation, and they don’t let just anyone join. 

“They were stepping out of the comfort zone just letting me on the team,” Miller said. “Within the first year, they were really impressed with just how hard I worked.” 

Once he was on the team, Miller had to continue working hard. But he had proved his place, and Kray said he was eager to have Miller on the team.  

“His freshman year he wasn’t officially on the cross country team, but on his own initiative he took the time to get to know the distance guys after coming to the house with me and meshed really well with us,” Kray said. 

It was Miller’s determination to succeed that drove him during practice.

“It wasn’t really a hobby anymore; it was something I wanted to excel at,” Miller said.

He said that the toughest thing he had to learn was getting used to the 8,000 meters.

“I had to put everything I had into just preparing for races…I was an 800 in the 400 runner, and I really had no idea what I was in for,” Miller said.

Last year, all of Miller’s hard work paid off.  He made the national team and is now No. 3 on Augie’s cross country team.

Kray said that Miller was completely responsible for his own success.  

“Seeing both of us have relatively successful careers so far has been great, and although I introduced him to the sport, I am hesitant to take much responsibility for the drive and dedication that, much like anyone who chooses to dedicate themselves to running, is on one’s own prerogative,” Kray said.  “To share an unexpected path with a long-time friend is a very unique experience that I think we’re both thankful for.” 

Miller said that even though he is taking steps in the right direction, there is still a lot he needs to learn.  

“I’m still learning every single race. Every race shows me something I can get better at,” he said.  

Miller said that he is always looking for ways to train better and smarter. 

At the beginning of his running career, Miller knew he had talent, but he had to work hard and said that commitment is why he has been successful.  

“When I want to do something well, I commit my whole being into doing it well.” 

He continues to learn every day and he doesn’t like looking back on past mistakes. “There’s nothing I would change. I’m happy where I am.” 


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