Cross country began for Mike O’Connor as a backup plan. Now, he’s the captain of Emerson’s men’s team, and participated in his second half-marathon on Sunday.
O’Connor said he’s experienced disappointment in his sports career, but it’s lead him to success. He said he played soccer at Hanover High School, but was cut from the team ahead of his junior season. O’Connor said he had told friends that if he failed to make the soccer team, he would join cross country.
O’Connor finished in his team’s top five at his first career high school meet. Now in his junior year at Emerson, the visual and media arts major is pacing his college team with three straight finishes under 30:00.
“He always, always runs well,” head coach John Furey said. “Even on a day that he might not be having his best day, he always finds a way to persevere, and really grind through.”
O’Connor said his goal by the end of the season is to break 29 minutes. He finished with a time of 29:24 at the Pop Crowell Invitational meet in late September, and attributes his early success to his familiarity with courses from the past two years, and to his approach at the beginning of races.
“I start off slower now, and I have a new philosophy on how to catch people,” O’Connor said. “Think about it like fishing—catching somebody and reeling them in slowly.”
O’Connor said he arrives on campus before 8 a.m. on most days, and often stays until midnight. In addition to leading the cross country team, he is the class of 2017 president.
O’Connor also directs marketing for the Emerson Channel, is a member of the Emerson Poetry Project, takes photographs for the Five Cent Soundmagazine on campus, plays quidditch, and serves as an orientation leader.
O’Connor’s cross country teammate and friend, Martha Connolly, a sophomore visual and media arts major, said his positive attitude is always apparent.
“He cares more about the team and everyone getting along, really liking what they do here, than just about himself,” Connolly said.
O’Connor said he had scouted out Emerson by his freshman year in high school, and pushed himself to achieve high enough grades to be accepted. Once he had established himself as a cross country runner in high school, the ability to run, while also studying film production, had massive appeal, O’Connor said.
“I really wanted to be able to go to Emerson and do sports, and that was a big selling factor for Emerson,” O’Connor said. “The fact that I could be on a cross country team that was competitive at college was really, really important.”
O’Connor turned 21 this past Sunday, and to celebrate, he ran in the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile race. O’Connor said he finished with a time of 1:27:34, good for 137th place in a field of over 2,000. Furey said he thinks O’Connor’s “steady pace” makes the marathon an ideal race for him.
“That’s his birthday present to himself,” Furey said. “I actually think he’s probably even better suited to the half or the full marathon than he is to the 5K.”
In the cross country offseason, which Furey said is around 40 weeks, O’Connor continues his running training, but also plays quidditch, serving as co-captain of the Park Street Pulverizers alongside his roommate Kieran Collier, a senior writing, literature and publishing major.
“Mike’s one of those people where, if he knows he can do something, he’ll push himself to the fullest extent,” Collier said. “The second he started seeing himself as a confident ball handler, he really improved a lot in that regard, and really became a leader on the [quidditch] field.”
O’Connor said he hopes to remain in New England as he continues to pursue a career in the film arena.
“I find myself really drawn to post-production and production management,” O’Connor said. “I hope to work commercially, and be able to pursue projects of my own in the near future.”
For now, O’Connor will continue to work toward a new personal best race time with nearly a month left in the cross country season. While O’Connor’s busy schedule leaves him with little time to spare, he said he’s committed to being at every team practice.
“If I don’t do it, how can I expect other people to go and do it?” O’Connor said. “I want to make sure that I’m always there, always 100 percent.”
Assistant sports editor Hannah Miller, a member of the women’s cross country team, did not edit or contribute to this report.