From the emergency room to the top of the podium
A historic win was within reach for Dillon Powell in November 2021 at the 2022 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships in St. Leo, Florida. The Mines Cross Country and Track & Field star had put together an impressive cross country season, securing both the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championship and the NCAA South Central Region Championship earlier in the year. But nearly 8,000 meters into the 10K race for a national title, the finish line suddenly didn’t matter.
Under the hot Florida sun with nearly 80 percent humidity, Powell felt heat exhaustion overcoming him and his lead slipping. As he charged up a hill, he tripped, crawled to maintain his momentum and ultimately tripped again before finally collapsing into the dirt.
“When Dillon went down, it was scary,” said Head Cross Country Coach Chris Siemers. “I pulled him off the course at the top of the hill. My thoughts were all over the place, and I was focused on getting him medical attention.”
Powell and many other competitors in the national race facing similar effects were taken from the course to the local emergency room for medical attention.
“I don’t remember much of the race after 6,000 meters,” said Powell. “I was comatose for about 20 minutes after being pulled from the course. My internal temperature was measured at 106.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which is up in the range of 20-50 percent chance of death. I am very lucky for those around me who got me cooled down and to the hospital.”
But this scary experience didn’t prevent Powell from returning to the sport. In fact, Powell was determined to accomplish the goals he and Coach Siemers had laid out at the beginning of the season: an ambitious list including a national championship, a national record and multiple all-America awards.
“The main lesson I learned from the cross country and indoor seasons was to be patient,” said Powell. “In running, the last move is usually the one that wins, so being decisive and calm throughout the race is crucial. After the disappointment in Florida and coming so close to a national title in the 5K, I was very motivated and also very confident in Coach Siemers’ training.”
On the evening of May 26, 2022, at the 2022 NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships in Michigan, Powell finally found redemption. He executed the race strategy to perfection and cruised to nearly a 10-second victory to clinch the seventh national championship in Mines men’s track & field history.
“I was in tears as he pulled away from the competition in Michigan,” Siemers said. “To win that race, he had to put that awful day in Florida behind him. It means so much to his teammates as well because they run with him every day and he pushes them to be better. Even more so, we all know that he is a great person and a great student, and that’s more important than winning.”
“It was totally redemptive,” Powell said. “It made all the bitter moments better. I realized what I had learned from my previous failures made me a better runner. In the race, I was far more patient. I keyed off other runners to a greater extent. With 1,300 meters to go, I put in a surge that I was sure would break the rest of the field and still kept pushing. I closed my last 1,000 meters faster than I had ever run outside of the 5K during indoors. I was kind of in a state of shock on the podium and for the next couple days.”
The 2022-23 season will be Powell’s final collegiate season. Even so, he has plenty of goals remaining, including USTFCCCA Cross Country All-America status and multiple individual and team national championships up for grabs.