Mines track and field runner Neal Anderson ’12, MS ’14 doesn’t view the brain tumor that derailed his senior year of athletic competition in the same light as others.
“The brain tumor was kind of like, just another injury. Obviously a little more severe and it caused a lot more worry for the people I love, but in my mind, I don’t think I’ve done anything that special,” Anderson says.
He was forced to quit training in fall 2012 for the NCAA South Central Regional Championships and NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships when the tumor was diagnosed. Though benign, it had to be surgically removed, keeping Anderson off the track and field team for the following spring season. With one semester of eligibility remaining, he began building for the spring 2014 season, but the Bettendorf, Iowa, native encountered a long series of leg issues. However, with extra rehabilitation and training he was back on the track in April, preparing for the last event as a collegiate runner.
Needing to better his time to qualify for the 2014 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Anderson took part in the Mines-hosted (and aptly named) Last Chance Meet on May 10. With pace-setting from teammate and returning national runner-up Tyler Curtis ’14 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Anderson recorded a time of 9:27.59, the 22nd best Division II time in the nation in an event in which the top 20 runners advanced to the championships.
After two runners opted not to take part in the event, the door opened for him to return to the NCAA Championships two years after earning All-American status in the event in spring 2012.
Placed in the second heat during the preliminary races, Anderson once again used the help of Curtis, who paced the pair into the 12-man finals a day later.
“It was awesome. For me just to make it to the finals this year was way more than I was expecting. If it had ended there, that would have been a great cap to my career,” Anderson says. “But it didn’t end there,” he adds with a smile.
The day of his final race, nerves were high, but Anderson knew he had an opportunity to complete another goal. Just before the gun fired, he calmed himself with simple resolve: “Let’s make it hurt, and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was Anderson’s best time in the event in his career. He set a new personal record on the way to a sixth-place finish and another All-American honor, helping his team to a 14th-place finish in the country. For the second year, Curtis finished as the national runner-up in the event.
“The sixth-place finish was great, but the biggest thing for me was I PR’d [set a personal record] by 11 seconds,” Anderson says. “It was definitely the best I’ve ever done both mentally and physically and the most fun I’ve ever had in a race. I don’t know that there’s a better way to end a collegiate running career.”
The metallurgical and materials engineering graduate will begin work later this summer as a design engineer in the propulsion division for ATK Aerospace in Salt Lake City, Utah.