By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - College athletes are some of the best in the country in their respective sports.
Most fans assume that these athletes are being rewarded for their superior athletic ability by receiving a scholarship to their chosen academic institution. But not all athletic standouts are on scholarship. Just ask Greg Kaczka, Miami's record holder in the men's indoor mile run.
"I am still a walk-on after four years," Kaczka said.
The senior distance runner broke Miami's men's indoor mile record by posting a time of 4:08.22 at the New Mexico Classic earlier this season.
"In our program we have not had much of a distance history," Kaczka said. "We don't put our scholarships as much toward the distance as we do for hurdles and sprinting. I don't know if it is surprising that I have the record because I think anyone could beat the record, walk-on or scholarship. Records are made to be broken, so I wouldn't be surprised if another walk-on broke my record in the future."
Kaczka credits his success this season to intense training in the off-season. The veteran has been working hard to prepare for his final collegiate season and he is pleased with his progress.
"This season we have had some really good training," Kaczka said. "Over break, I had really good training. When your running well things are just clicking. I don't think anything feels different about this mile as opposed to other miles. I have a lot of confidence now. Just being in the race and competing at the front of the pack is a great feeling."
Kaczka did not start running competitively until high school, but the late start did not hinder him. He became an all-state performer in the indoor 1,000m run for Deep Run High School in Glen Allen, Va., and garnered attention from various colleges around the country.
"I wasn't a runner until high school, so I didn't know until my junior year that I was even capable of running at the Division I level," Kaczka said. "When I knew I could run at this level, I started looking at schools. Smaller schools started reaching out to me and then Miami reached out to me early in my junior year. Based on academics and environment, it was the right decision to come here."
Miami is happy to have Kaczka competing in orange and green. His work ethic and leadership are two qualities that have made him successful and Kaczka hopes the example he sets for his teammates has helped them improve, as well.
"I think my leadership style has always been leading by example," Kaczka said. "Being a good communicator is important, but I have always set the example through my work ethic, also outside of school, doing the right things, sleeping and eating right. Always having that vision that this is my ultimate goal and having the entire team buy into it."
A finance major set to graduate in May, Kaczka is having his record-setting season while finishing his final semester of college and interviewing for potential jobs.
"It takes a lot of work to balance it all out evenly: athletics, academics and looking for jobs," Kaczka said. "You just need to manage your time. Everything I do, I try to do my best, so sometimes it is hard to balance all of them, but I think I do pretty well.
Kaczka's desire to excel in everything he does makes his balancing act even more intricate. The senior wants to finish his academic career strong, earn a financial leadership position after graduation and finish his running career among the best in the country.
"For ACC indoors, my goal is to make the finals," Kaczka said. "Only 10 qualify for the indoor mile final and 12 for outdoor final, so you have to be among the top runners to qualify. I'd love to score for my team. That would be huge and might be the first ever on the distance side to score for Miami. Also going into outdoor track, I want to make it to the NCAA regional and making the Nationals would be the biggest goal."
Even if Kaczka falls short of some of his athletic goals, he has no regrets about his time at Miami.
"It has been a great experience overall," Kaczka said. "Coming here, I was a little out of my comfort zone. As a walk-on athlete, people view you a little different starting out because they are not sure what your capabilities are. It was always about working hard for me and it is really starting to pay off for my senior year. Right now, it is getting to the point where I'm trying to make it to the ACC finals, set new records, and hopefully make it to the NCAA regional in outdoor track."