May 20, 2013
One of the hardest workers on the Husky track squad, senior Dan Sanders got a payoff at the recent Pac-12 Championships that he had never really expected could happen when he walked on to the team in the fall of 2010. The Redmond High product never made a state track final in high school, in part due to injury, but so making the Pac-12 final in the 400-meter hurdles this year was a huge goal achieved. Sanders took sixth, running a new career-best of 52.41 seconds, earning three valuable team points as well as running on the UW 4x400m relay, which finished fifth. A standout in the classroom as well, Sanders is close to earning a degree in Computer Engineering, with a GPA that has earned him Pac-12 All-Academic distinction. GoHuskies.com talked to Sanders about his career-day at Pac-12s and the balancing act of athletics and academics.
GoHuskies.com: After all the work you've put in, talk about how it felt to make the final last week and run a PR.
Dan Sanders: Last weekend was great for me. It was a culmination of four years of hard work since I've been here. It's way more than I expected coming in here as a walk-on; it's been a goal of mine for a long time, so making that final and then PR'ing again in the final was really great for me.
GH: Now you get to carry that into the Prelims for the first time as well.
DS: Yeah, I didn't have a Regional qualifier in the 400 hurdles until this weekend. I wasn't really thinking about Regionals, I was just trying to focus on Pac-12s, but hitting the 52.63 in the prelims was kind of on the bubble. So I knew to go to Regionals for sure I'd have to go faster, and then PR'ing in the finals, I knew that should make it, so that was pretty great. Our relay was already qualified after we ran a pretty fast time at the Stanford Invite. A lot of the guys really stepped up and ran well at Stanford and ran well again at Pac-12s. James, Quadelle, Andrew, Derrick, we just have a lot of depth on our relay this year, so I think it could be a pretty good race at Regionals, if I don't strain my hamstring during it.
GH: Yeah, now that you mention it, how is the hamstring feeling after a few days of treatment?
DS: It's getting better every day. I'm hoping it's going to be good at Regionals. It's not a horrible tear or anything, so I've just been getting treatment on it and the trainers have been helping me out trying to get ready to go one more time.
GH: Looking back at your first year, what convinced you that you could walk on and make it? You were injured your senior year of high school so you didn't have a lot of the accolades that even other walk-ons might have.
DS: Well coming in off my senior year of high school I was really frustrated, because I basically didn't get to run. I knew I could do more in track. It was just a really sour ending to my athletic career, so I thought, hey, I'm going to U-Dub, I'm just going to start training a lot and see where I can go with it. I thought about walking on to the team but I knew it would be really hard to do. I got here in the fall and started working out with the team. That summer I just killed myself with workouts and I was coming in in really good shape. I started being able to run with the guys, and I was doing pretty well in the workouts. At that point I realized maybe I can run at a D-I level, so from that point, one of my biggest career goals has been to see how close I could get to my full potential. I knew coming out of high school that I hadn't hit it, so every year that's been my motivation, wanting to do the best that I can do given the talents that I have.
That's one of the great things about this sport is nobody's ever perfect. People can always improve, that's the beauty of it.
GH: How close do you think you are now to that potential?
DS: I don't know, my dad and I were talking about this after Pac-12s. He was saying, "Well, we thought you were at your potential but now it's obvious you haven't peaked yet." Honestly I don't know, it will be interesting to see how I do at Regionals if I stay healthy. I think I can definitely go faster; there's always things to improve on, that's one of the great things about this sport is nobody's ever perfect. People can always improve, that's the beauty of it. So we'll see how I do at Regionals, I'm just going to approach how I have every other meet and try to do my best.
GH: How close has your senior group of sprinters become over the past four years?
DS: Honestly all the seniors and everyone on the team, that's been the number one reason I've stayed with it and stayed motivated for so long. Because I love all my teammates, all the sprinters especially are some of my best friends. We've been through so much together. So the teammates have been the number one motivating factor for me. It's just been a great time these four years practicing with them every day and pursuing a goal together. Seeing someone like Shayne Moore get the payoff for all the work he's put in, and having a guy like James with so much experience; he's been like a mentor to me, I've learned a lot from him. So, yeah, it's been the people definitely.
GH: There's a big freshman group this year as well, with three different freshmen running on the 4x4 at times this year. How do you think they've adjusted?
DS: It's interesting, their group dynamic as freshmen coming in reminds me of how we were as freshmen. We were a tight-knit group. They're just really fun-loving, they work hard at practice, they're all best friends with each other, and it's great to see because when you're enjoying yourself in this sport you perform better and it's more fun, obviously. So yeah those guys have a lot of great things ahead of them.
GH: How old were you when you first started running track? Did you play many other sports?
DS: Growing up baseball was always my favorite sport and I started running track in junior high. Pretty much from the start I realized running and track was what I was best at, and obviously I started to love it because that's what I was best at. I was big into sports though, all through high school, I played football and basketball but I knew track was always where my number one passion was.
My family has been just great throughout this whole thing ... It's just been awesome having them there after the races, being able to go hang out with them, it just means the world to me.My grandpa ran track at UC Berkeley under Brutus Hamilton, and then my dad ran the high hurdles in high school in Colorado, so it's been in the blood for a while. My family has been just great throughout this whole thing. This year they came to pretty much every single track meet, my parents and my sister. It's just been awesome having them there after the races, being able to go hang out with them, it just means the world to me.
GH: You've got what most would call a pretty demanding major in Computer Engineering, how tough has it been to add athletics to that and keep your grades as high as they always are?
DS: Yeah it's always a balancing act. Practicing four or five hours a day with all the programming and the school demands, it gets really tough sometimes. As long as you stay on top of your time management and do the things you know you should be doing, it's definitely doable, but it's tough. Most students in the major have more free time and can spend more time on the assignments, but it's been worth it, because I love computer engineering and programming, and I love track, so I've been able to do both pretty well.
GH: How much school do you have left?
DS: I have one quarter next year. I also have indoor eligibility next year for track, which would require me to stay for two quarters. So I haven't decided on that yet, I don't know if I'm coming back, but I've got one more quarter at least. I want to see how I feel after the year, and if my body's still holding up. It's honestly going to be more of an emotional decision, but I know once it's done for good that I'm going to miss it.
GH: Any big summer plans?
DS: Yeah I'm going down to San Diego, I have a software internship with Qualcomm, so I'm going to hang out there and become a surfer bro in California. One of my career dreams is doing something software related with sports. Building a sports related app or working for a sports company. I think that would just be awesome to put together my two loves.