All-American Hassan Mead will conclude his illustrious cross country career at the University of Minnesota on Monday at the NCAA Championships.
His journey, however, started more than 8,000 miles from the Twin Cities.
Mead was born in Somalia and spent the first 11 years of his life there before immigrating to Minneapolis in 2000.
Upon his arrival, Mead said he had difficulty adapting to the bitter cold winter and went to live with his uncle on the West Coast.
That’s where Mead said he was first made aware of the kind of opportunities running could present.
“Out in Seattle, one of my coaches said, ‘This is something that a college university will pay you to do,’” Mead said. “Being young and watching other sports like football and basketball, I didn’t know much about running at such a high level.
“That was the point I kind of realized that there’s more to it than just running for fitness or class. I didn’t think it would lead to this at all.”
Mead didn’t run cross country competitively until his junior year of high school, but impressed in his first season.
He finished 10th at the 2005 Washington State Class 4A State Meet.
Mead said his family wanted him to finish school in Minnesota so he moved back for his final year and a half of high school.
He picked up his success in cross country in Minnesota right where he left off in Washington.
Mead won the Roy Griak Invitational, the State Cross Country Meet and the Foot Locker Midwest Regional Meet during his senior year.
His dominance got the attention of Minnesota head coach Steve Plasencia.
“It was the fall of his senior year that I saw he could be very, very good,” Plasencia said.
Despite the frigid cold, Mead chose to attend the University of Minnesota.
“When it came to making a decision in terms of college, I was interested in the West Coast, but at the end of the day when you looked at what you wanted … the University [of Minnesota] was perfect for me,” Mead said.
He was a perfect fit for the Gophers, as well.
Mead immediately contributed for Minnesota and placed second at the Big Ten meet and NCAA Midwest Regional as a freshman and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
In his sophomore and junior seasons he captured the title in the Big Ten meet and NCAA Midwest Regional.
Mead acquired All-American accolades in both of those seasons.
Then he hit a roadblock.
Mead was plagued by a burdensome Achilles’ tendon injury throughout 2009 and suffered a collapsed lung during a standard training run in 2010 while on the recovery trail.
Mead said he knew the risk of injury is always prevalent in the sport of running, but said he didn’t foresee the collapsed lung.
“That was kind of just a rare occasion, I mean you don’t really think about saying, ‘Watch out for a collapsed lung,’’’ Mead said. “That’s not the first thing you worry about when you’re out there training — you’re more likely to get hit by a truck than a lung collapse.”
The unexpected lung collapse forced Mead to redshirt the 2010-11 cross country season, but has returned to full form in his final season with the Gophers.
He finished third at the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 24, fourth at the Big Ten Championships on Oct. 30, and is one week removed from a first-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
“I think how he handled those injuries is a testament to the kind of person he is,” Plasencia said. “He did so calmly and with a positive mindset throughout.”
Plasencia said he and Mead have developed a close relationship throughout the All-American’s career.
“I felt like we’ve had a good relationship and got some good things done,” Plasencia said. “We’ll be coming toward the end of his cross country career here after the national meet, so that will be kind of one chapter closed.”
Mead reciprocated this feeling and attributed a lot of his growth as a runner to Plasencia and Minnesota’s coaching staff. Mead added that his final season with the Gophers offered an added incentive.
“Especially being young and having early success you kind of get used to it and when you have a long set back you start to wonder when you will be back,” Mead said. “Coming into my last year, I definitely wanted to do some big things and we’ve had success and we’ve had some downs, but it’s the process.
“We knew it’s going to be a long process and our goal was to get to Nov. 21.”
It was announced Nov. 13 that Mead and his teammates received an at-large bid for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
Now the day has finally come.
It will be the final race in what Mead said has been a career that extends beyond running.
“I didn’t think about where I am today and all the success I’ve had, and all the things that came along with it — the people that I’ve met, relationships I’ve developed, friendships — when I first started,” Mead said. “I’m here at the University of Minnesota and running is one of the reasons.”
Mead still has an indoor and outdoor season of track and field eligibility left, but on Monday at the cross country championships, Mead will run his final race in the sport for which he will be most remembered.
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