From amateur to champion

CMU graduate and Fayette native Drew Gandy recently won a national championship in the decathlon, held May 25-26 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Gandy joined the CMU track and field team in 21015 after leaving the baseball team, and had no prior track and field experience. His dedication to training and competing led him to becoming CMU’s first All-American national champion.

BY MIKE URSERY
SPORTS EDITOR
Drew Gandy was in second place in the decathlon after eight events at the 2017 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. After the last two events, he stood on the podium as a national champion.
Gandy’s collegiate track career came to an end at the conclusion of the national championship meet, held May 25-27 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. A journey that began at the beginning of the 2015-2016 academic year, ended with Gandy standing atop the leaderboard when the decathlon ended.
“It’s pretty surreal, honestly,” Gandy said. “I couldn’t have imagined going into last year, when I started doing track, that I would be here now, having accomplished what I did. It’s kind of just crazy thinking about it. In a way, it hasn’t set in yet.”
Gandy went to CMU with dreams of having a successful baseball career. He was a baseball Eagle for three years, he said.
“That was always my dream, to play baseball in college and possibly further, if I could,” Gandy said.
At the end of his junior year, Gandy said he wasn’t getting the amount of playing time he wanted, and begin to feel like he was wasting his time.
One of Gandy’s teammates, Chris Bantz, had left the baseball team after suffering injuries. He pursued a career in track and field and began running for CMU head coach Mark Nelson.
“He told me it would be a good opportunity to try out for track and see if that would work out,” Gandy said. “I met with Coach Nelson after my junior year. He said he would be more than welcome to have me. That’s basically how it started.”
Nelson spoke of what the experience has been like having Gandy on the track and field team.
“Drew is one of our hardest workers on the team,” Nelson said. “He has to be, with 10 events to train for every week.  He has come a long way, from trying to find a place on our team. to being one of its leaders.  Drew was one of our team captains this year, and he did a great job with it.”
Before joining the track and field team at CMU, Gandy said he never ran track and field.
Gandy was homeschooled his whole life, he said, and played sports on club teams in Columbia.
When he reached high school, he attended a Christian school in Columbia called Heritage Academy, where he played baseball.
He said the school had a track team for the first couple of years he attended Heritage Academy.
Going into his junior year, he said he talked with his parents about doing both baseball and track and field. After getting the go-ahead from his parents, he inquired about joining the track and field team.
Unfortunately, the team disbanded due to not having enough participants.
“I never got a chance to do track,” Gandy said. “I always wanted to, but it just never worked out.”
Gandy said that when he got the opportunity to run track and field for CMU, he was really excited about it.
“I didn’t know what event I was going to do, but I was looking forward to it,” Gandy said.
Gandy said making the decision to attend CMU was an easy one, for various reasons. He lives five miles from Fayette, and location played a role. Another was for financial reasons. CMU was one of the schools that had recruited him to play baseball, he said.
“I really loved the coach who was here at the time,” Gandy said about former CMU head baseball coach Fred Smith. “I enjoyed playing for him, and it was a great fit for me. I really like the campus. I’ve been around Fayette almost all my life, and I just really like this campus. It was a pretty easy choice for me to come here.”
Gandy was undeclared when he started attending classes at CMU, and didn’t know what he wanted to do as far as a major, he said.
He eventually decided on a degree plan towards secondary education, and later decided to pursue a degree in English.
“After a while, I realized I really didn’t want to go into the school system and be a teacher,” Gandy said. “I just wasn’t passionate enough about it. At that point, I had enough English credits already, so I decided just to go with the English major.”
Gandy’s training schedule was demanding. He trained for 10 events, and spent up to as many as six hours a day training, he said.
“I tried to get as many reps as I could, and just tried to figure out the sport as I went along,” Gandy said.
The time and dedication he put towards his training certainly paid off. At the 2016 Heart Indoor Track and Field Championships, Gandy scored 4,297 points in the heptathlon, setting a new school record. He placed third in the conference in the seven-event contest.
On March 19, 2016, Gandy ran the 100-meter hurdles for the first time when CMU hosted the CMU Open at Hairston. He ran the race in 15.88, taking first place. The feat earned him a Heart Player of the Week award, announced two days later on March 21.
Gandy earned to the trip to the 2016 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, where he competed in the decathlon. He finished 11th overall.
This past April, Gandy set a new school record at the Kansas Relays. He scored 6,448 points in the two-day event, beating his previous record by nearly 200 points. The previous record was 6,227 points, set by Gandy in 2016.
Gandy won the decathlon at the 2017 Heart Outdoor Track and Field Championships, held last month.
He finished in first place in three events, second in three other events, and had one third place finish to lead the field in the two-day event.
Gandy’s 6,448 points in the decathlon gave him a No. 5 ranking in the nation for NAIA, and a spot in the 2017 NAIA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships.
The national championships also marked the end of Gandy’s journey as a collegiate track runner. He went from a new athlete with no experience in the sport, to competing on the NAIA’s biggest stage, with a shot at becoming CMU’s first All-American in the decathlon.
After the first day, Gandy sat in second place. He had strong finishes in both the 100 and both the long jump. He moved down to third place after the long jump, but jumped back into second before the day was finished.
When the day ended, he sat just 46 points behind the leader.
On the second day, Gandy dropped down to fourth place after two events. With three events left, he was 177 points behind the leader.
“I didn’t really think too much about the score at all and where I was placed,” Gandy said. “I was really confident about the events coming up.”
Nelson said he thought the coaches and Gandy’s parents, who were in attendance, were keeping close track of the score the whole time.
“When the pole vault ended, I was feeling pretty good about his chances,” Nelson said. “I thought, ‘all he needs is a decent throw (in the javelin) and he can win this thing.’”
The pole vault was the eighth event in the decathlon. A second place finish in the pole vault gave Gandy 790 points, and catapulted him to second place with two events still to go.
“I had no idea where I was in the standings at this point,” Gandy said. “I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to ask. I was just gonna do what I was doing, and my coaches weren’t going to say a word.”
Gandy said he didn’t know he had potential of winning the whole thing until one of his competitors told him after the javelin that he had a chance to win.
With two events left, Gandy was only nine points behind the leader.
Gandy threw the javelin 53.01 meters to place second. That finish scored 633 points, moving Gandy into first.
“He ended up hitting his best javelin throw, and went into the 1500, one of his best events, in the lead,” Nelson said. “My advice was to run to win the 1500, so no one would have a chance to catch his score.  He didn’t, but he ran plenty fast enough to hold his spot.”
Gandy finished fourth in the 1500, but the points he earned in that race padded his cushion over the other competitors.
Gandy finished with a total of 6,855 points, demolishing his own school record, but more importantly, winning the national championship.
Gandy said that the other competitors in the decathlon were congratulatory when it was all finished, and described it as a bonding moment with them.
“An interesting thing about the decathlon is if you’re crazy enough to do that kind of event, then you have do it together with the other people in order to get through it,” Gandy said. “Throughout the two days that we competed, wer were always pushing each other and encouraging each other. At the end of that, it was like a family gathering kind of thing. It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, honestly. I won’t forget that feeling of having gone through what I did to get there, the hard work I put through, and then having it all laid out on the field and on the track, and coming out on top. It was a great feeling.”
Gandy said the first thing he did when he got back to Fayette was have dinner with his teammates. He called it a sad farewell, being that he and many other of his teammates were seniors.
Gandy’s collegiate career is finished, but he said he isn’t done with track and field.
“Because I’ve only done track and field for two years, I don’t know what my potential is,” Gandy said. “It’s limitless for me in my mind at tthis point.”
Gandy said he will continue to train and try to get stronger in his events. His ultimate dream is to make the Olympics at some point, he said.
“It’s obviously a lot of hard work between now and then to really do that,” Gandy said. “That’s a dream, and I’m just gonna try to push for it. I’m young and I don’t have anything holding me back, so I’m gonna try to do that.”
Gandy said he plans to be a volunteer coach for CMU while using their facilities to train. He also plans to travel with the team to meets and compete unattached in events.
Gandy said the most memorable thing about his career, besides becoming a national champion, was the growth he had with his teammates.
“They saw me grow from being someone who wasn’t a track athlete, to being someone who has become pretty accomplished in what I’m doing,” Gandy said. “Just the amount of respect that they have for me and I have for them, we’ve become such a family. I’m never going to forget the bonds I’ve made with my teammates, the ones I was at nationals with, and the also throughout the year. I love my teammates, and I wouldn’t trade the time I had with them for anything.”

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