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No slowing down for Calvin’s Most Valuable Runner

Sunday, January 01, 2012

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His last race was a few weeks ago, so junior track and cross country runner Dan Kerr is still on a break. “It’s just really good for the body to recover and take a physical break from all of the pounding,” Kerr said.

When Kerr starts running again the 21-year old exercise science and pre-physical therapy major will gradually add miles to his regimen. “When I’m at peak mileage, I average 14 to 16 miles a day with an 18-mile long run,” he said.

Some days, Kerr said, running is the greatest thing, and some days it is just brutal. He runs when it’s sunny and 80 degrees and when it’s snowing. He likes running in a summer rain. He likes running in the dark because it feels like he’s going really fast. “Actually one of my favorite things is to run in a thunderstorm, because there’s an element of danger to it. It just feels epic when you’re out there—doing something most people would not be caught dead doing,” he said.

“I call him a big Mack truck because once he gets started, it’s hard to slow him down,” said Calvin cross country coach Brian Diemer.

Kerr’s ability to just keep on going has led him to, among other plaudits, three first-team all-MIAA honors, first place in this year’s Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championships—and the league’s Most Valuable Runner Award. Most recently, Kerr came in 21st at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships in Winnecone, Wis., becoming an All-American for the first time.

“I was really happy to become an all American,” Kerr said. “To finally do it felt really amazing, but seeing where our team finished hurt because I was really hoping for better. I love it when I race well, but it’s even more satisfying when all of your teammates race well.”

That attitude is characteristic of Kerr, Diemer said: “He would pass up all of these personal things that he has done for the sake of a team, which is what makes him a great leader.”

Kerr was raised in Petosky, Mich., and he began running track in middle school on the recommendation of a friend. He didn’t take the sport too seriously: “I was a pretty chubby kid.” However, Petoskey-area coach Keith Henning was watching Kerr run, and he spotted something in his stride. Kerr started training with Henning, and he saw his performance improve.

Kerr made his way to Calvin in 2008, drawn in part by the reputation of the college’s religion department. “When I visited and spent a night with members of the (track) team, I felt a part of it right away,” Kerr said. He joined the track and cross country teams as a freshman. Then he got injured. He couldn’t run. Then he got worried:

“For the first time, I didn’t have running as my outlet. The stationary bike just didn’t do it for me.… I kept worrying about all of the assignments that were due instead of thinking about what I needed to get done for the day.” Kerr was dealing not only with the repercussions of his injury, but with the effects of Asperger’s Syndrome, a pervasive developmental disorder with which he had been diagnosed.

“I just didn’t take it a day at a time,” he said of his first Calvin year. After he dropped out, Kerr kept in touch with Diemer and his other coaches, and they encouraged him. “I got a letter from most of the cross country team, letting me know that I was in their thoughts and in their prayers,” he said.

Diemer recommended that Kerr return to Calvin and take on a reduced course load. Spring semester 2009, he did. By the fall of ’09, he was tapped to run for regionals and nationals, and since then, he’s been one of the team’s top performers.

Following his graduation, Kerr hopes to go on to grad school to become a physical therapist. He’s not sure where—wherever God calls me—but he hopes to continue running after college. He’s glad he gave himself another shot at Calvin. “It’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” Kerr said.

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