March 29, 2013
Hard work pays off for distance runner Brian Dixon
Salukis love to be challenged. Just ask Brian Dixon.
A distance runner since middle school -- “I played baseball and soccer and wasn’t very good” -- Brian knew when he graduated high school in Springfield that he wanted to compete on SIU’s cross country and track teams. However, Coach Matt Sparks told Brian that he had more work to do to meet the NCAA’s academic eligibility standards. If he accomplished that, Brian could walk on (no scholarship) and Matt would give him a year to prove himself.
During the summer before his freshman year, Brian passed the necessary course to become academically eligible. He then proceeded to earn a 4.0 GPA his freshman year, and a varsity letter. Now a junior majoring in accounting, Brian is an accomplished student-athlete and a great role model.
Like Brian, I also am a runner, usually getting out two to three times a week. While I don’t run far or fast, I do appreciate the health benefits and stress relief. And, after earning my degrees in accounting and management, and teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I understand the rigors of the coursework.
While Brian has chosen very challenging paths, he has embraced his opportunities. Last month, he was named to the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-Academic Team for the 2012 cross-country season. He is the first Saluki since 2005 and the first Saluki male since 1996 to earn the honor for the cross-country season.
Brian excels in the classroom, achieving a 3.96 GPA. Last November, he competed in the national meet after great performances at the Missouri Valley Conference Championships (sixth place, all-conference) and the NCAA Midwest Regionals (19th place, All-Region).
Coach Sparks holds the student-athletes to very high standards, and they respond. The men’s team had the 13th-highest GPA in the country at 3.47, and both the men and women (3.48) had the highest GPAs in the Missouri Valley Conference. As Brian says, “I blame all of my good grades on Coach Sparks.”
In addition to his academic responsibilities, Brian trains about 20 hours a week. He describes a typical night as enjoying tacos and some favorite TV shows in his apartment. As is true for our other student-athletes, Brian also gives back to the community, helping with family reading nights at an elementary school and serving food at a local church.
Brian and his teammates will host their first outdoor meet of the season today at our newest athletic facility just east of Abe Martin Field -- the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex and Connie Price-Smith Throws Area. We will hold a dedication ceremony at 1:30 p.m., and I hope you can join us. Both Lew, the retired legendary coach, and Connie, current head track and field coach and four-time Olympian, will speak during the celebration.
Athletic competition is an important thread in the fabric of our University. It requires incredible dedication on the part of student-athletes and coaches. Brian continues to show that through hard work and commitment, big things are within reach for our students.