(Geneva, Ohio) One year ago, Cornerstone senior, Cody Risch waged a three-way battle over the final lap of the 3,000 meter race walk reaching the finish line first in an apparent meet record. Moments later, he was informed that he had been disqualified. On the second day of the 2014 NAIA Indoor Track & Field Championships, the same three men met again.
Throughout the 2014 season, Risch, Alejandro Chavez and Nick Christie of Missouri Baptist took turns leading the NAIA performance list in the race walk. Defending champion, Chavez came to nationals having walked six second faster than the other two. From the start the trio separated themselves from the rest of the field of ten with Risch shadowing the pair from Mo Bap. "Their pace was super fast," said Risch. "They went through the first kilometer at 11:40 pace. I can't keep that pace so I let them go. For a while I thought they had me."
Risch backed off from 71 seconds per lap to 74 for the next 600 meters then coming off the sixth of ten laps in 73 he saw Chavez coming back. Dropping back down to 70 seconds for the next 300 meters took him past the 2013 champ and brought Christie within reach.
"I worked on form more than ever this year," said Risch. Last year's DQ came from getting three form violations from the judges positioned around the track. "I knew that in order to win I had to have the lead with 600 meters to go so I could keep the inside position making it harder for them to get around." Into the seventh lap Risch accelerated even more catching the leader and sweeping past. Christie gave chase but couldn't sustain the effort. Cody split a 69 and reached 600 to go with the lead and little chance of being caught.
"I knew Nick wasn't there and then I heard Q [Cornerstone men's distance coach, Nate Van Holten] say I had eight seconds on him," said Risch. "All I had to do was keep it legal." A careful 71 second ninth lap put Risch just 300 meters away from redemption. "I knew I had two [form violation] marks going into the last lap and I kept telling myself to stay low and keep me feet on the ground. The judge on the backstretch had moved toward the finish so was able to relax going into the last turn."
Even though his lead had shrunk to six seconds Cody knew he couldn't be caught and he kept his thoughts on technique. "The last 100 meters I was telling myself to slow down and keep it legal. Then I saw the clock and it shifted to, 'speed up – go for the record!'" A final push brought him to the finish, hands raised in victory. The clock read 11:57.96 giving Risch the meet record, the Spire Track Record and the Collegiate Record along with the NAIA Championship, breaking the mark of 12:00.57 set by Chavez in 2013.
Or did it? As was the case last year, the official announcement couldn't be made until the judges had conferred, sorted through all the violation forms and double checked the tally. After several minutes the public address announcer said, "The results of the men's 3,000 meter race walk that you see on the scoreboard are…not final." Waiting on the infield with Chavez and Christie, Risch was not letting himself be convinced one way or the other with regard to the outcome. "Finally Q came over after watching the officials go over everything," said Risch. "He said, 'two marks – you're in' and then I knew."
Van Holten praised Risch for his perseverance, "After what happened last year, Cody had one season of indoor eligibility left and he spend the last year preparing for this race. There were three very good walkers in this race and I think the guy who wanted it the most, won."
"Very few times do people get a second chance at accomplishing something this big," said Cornerstone Director of Track & Field, Rod Wortley. "For Cody, this is a great redemptive story about dedicating himself to getting something that he thought he had then lost. His preparation and execution today were everything they needed to be. His strength of character played a significant role in this accomplishment and I'm proud to see him join the list of our national champions."