Westmont senior Robbie Cherry shares a moment with track coach Russell Smelley before the NAIA medal ceremony. Cherry finished second in the marathon, setting a personal best time in the marathon. (Westmont College photo)

Senior Robbie Cherry earned All-American honors on the final day of the NAIA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Edwardsville, Ill., by taking second place in the men’s marathon. His time of 2:29:41 is the fourth fastest in Westmont history and serves as a crowning achievement of Cherry’s collegiate career.

“After (participating) in 11 national championships, I finally walk away with some hardware,” Cherry said after the race.

“That was a nice reward for a dedicated athlete and team member,” Westmont head coach Russell Smelley said, “someone who has done everything for the team. It’s his 11th national championship event as a developmental guy that was always in a support role. He makes the valiant effort and ends up an All-American.”


Westmont senior Lindsey Cooper battled the distance and sore knees to take 22nd place in the marathon. (Westmont College photo)

Cherry took the lead early in the race, establishing a fast standard for a hilly course in breezy conditions.

“I had a plan to run about 5:30 a mile consistently, regardless of what the opponent was doing,” he explained. “I stuck to my plan, which led me to a huge lead over everyone in the race.”

By the midway point (a little over 13 miles), Cherry’s 5:30 pace had earned him a 35-second lead over Juan Mejia of Cal State San Marcos.

“I began to tire and realized I was going to get caught,” Cherry said. “I wanted to make it an honest effort and not just let people catch me and get back in the race. I just kept running my race and eventually I did get caught about mile 18.

“Mejia caught me and stayed behind me for about half a mile,” he continued. “He was drafting off of me, so I looked back and asked him, ‘Do you want to help me out?’’ He just kind of smiled and he was gone. There were a lot of points where I could have tried to hold him off. I could have put up big surges around 10 or 15 miles into it when I still had a big lead. But I judged that if I did that I probably would pay the price later.”

“My hope was that Robbie could make All-American but the marathon is nobody’s friend so you can’t count on anything,” Smelley said. “When I saw Robbie in the lead at four miles I was unsure that was the
right tactic to take. His goal was to run 25 miles and then have a last mile kick. As it turns out, with a mile to go there were seven men close enough to take him down because he was running tired.”

“Billy Mills said, ‘God has given me the ability. The rest is up to me. Believe, believe, believe,’” Cherry quoted. “I think that’s true for almost every race, but the marathon is a little different. It’s not just up to the runner. The teammates encouraging me and coaching is very important. With about a mile to go, Coach calmed me down and made me run my race so that I could get to the finish line before the next runner. At some points I was willing to settle for sixth place, which is All-American. But Coach said, ‘You’ve worked too hard to give up second place.’ So I went for it.

“Robbie dropped down to a 5:23 mile and made it a race in the last mile and held his place,” Smelley said. “It’s one of the feel good, Hoosier-like, stories. If anyone deserved to get All-American, he did.”

After running 26 miles, Cherry charged into the stadium for the final 600 meters and sprinted the final 200 meters to the delight of the crowd.


Westmont senior Aaron Megazzi earned an 11th-place finish in the 5,000 meters. (Westmont College photo)

“My last mile was 5:23 and the last lap was 77 (seconds), which is a 5:08 pace,” explained the mathematics major. “My strategy was to run 25 miles and then race the last mile. It ended up being a good strategy.

“God was with me every step of the way,” continued Cherry. “You struggle and then you come back and then you struggle and you find more energy and are able to finish — it’s amazing. It’s not about ignoring your pain, it’s about saying, ‘OK, I have this pain, what am I going to do with it?’”

Also running the marathon Saturday was senior Lindsey Cooper, who finished 22nd in the women’s competition with a time of 3:26:35.

“It felt really good, incredibly good, to finish the race,” Cooper said. “I am the first person in my family to have finished a marathon. I called up my mom right away and she was so excited and happy for me
and she didn’t even know what my time was.”

“Lindsey struggled through very painful knees in the first third of the race and persevered through that,” Smelley said. “I’m very proud of her. I wanted so much for her to have a successful outing and she did. She earned it.”

Cooper’s mark is the ninth fastest in Westmont history for the women’s marathon.

“The course was pretty challenging,” Cooper said. “There is a big stretch in the wind where there weren’t a lot of spectators because of how hard it was to get to. My body didn’t hold up too well and I was in a lot of pain that last 10 miles or so. Coach really helped pull me through and my teammates did, too. At the end they drove to each spot that they could and shouted for me. I was hurting so bad, I don’t think I could have finished without that encouragement.

“During the race there was really good sportsmanship among the athletes,” Cooper continued. “That was something I wasn’t expecting. There were girls encouraging me and asking what time I was going to run. One girl even pointed up to another and said, “That girl is going to run the time you want to run, so stick with her.

“Lindsey is a dedicated individual and a great student who has persevered,” said Smelley. “Her goal was to run at nationals for Westmont, and she did.”

Also competing on the final day of competition was senior Aaron Megazzi, who placed 11th in the finals of the 5,000 meters. Megazzi, who posted a time of 15:11.88, ends his collegiate career as a four-time All-American — once in cross country, once in the indoor 3,000 meters and twice in the outdoor 5,000 meters.

Ron Smith is

Westmont College

’s sports information director.