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The unmistakable signs of approaching nausea; the arid taste of cotton as he rotates his tongue around his lips in a desperate search for moisture; the increasing reluctance of his legs to drag themselves up against the force of gravity; these signals tell the distance runner he is running out of gas. If he can keep going at this point he can pull away from the pack. Reed Eichner can keep going; Reed Eichner can keep "running on empty."
Eichner has earned a reputation as a top-notch runner with 13 long years of dedication to his sport. He began running as a third grader in Overland Park, Kansas.
Despite enjoying immediate success in local summer competitions, Eichner did not get serious about running until junior high school.
Still taking the attitude that running wasn't everything, Eichner found plenty of time for team sports in between his assault on the record book, and recalls with a special fondness his victories on the gridiron.
Upon entering Shawnee Mission High School in the fall of 1973, Eichner discovered that Coach Verlyn Schmidt had serious plans for his runners which did not include time for other sports.
"Going to practice every single day was like hell," Eichner says. "I had to walk down those halls every single afternoon and listen to other people making plans to have fun while I always knew I had to go run."
Those rough workouts paid off quickly as Eichner became the number three runner on an undefeated, state champion cross country squad.
The next two years brought more honors for the school's cross country and track teams, as well as an impressive array of individual awards for Eichner. In his junior and senior years, Shawnee Mission South took second in the state's cross country championships, and nabbed consecutive titles in indoor and outdoor track. Eichner scored personal triumphs with indoor mile and outdoor two mile victories both years at the state meet.
After closing out his high school career on a positive note, Eichner turned down several track scholarships and chose to come to Harvard, where Coach Bill McCurdy was elated to have an athlete of his enormous potential.
"Reed had posted a high school two mile time of about 9:01 and even with his strong showings this season, has yet to reach his full potential," McCurdy said recently. "He is an unusually talented person physically."
Once at Harvard, Eichner turned in several impressive showings freshman year and then exploded with an amazing comefrom-behind win in the Big Three Championships that fall against Yale and Princeton. He capped off the season by winning All-Ivy honors.
After that first season, in which Eichner relied primarily on his innate ability, the long hours spent in the library began to catch up with him. In his mind, the next year and a half were a disappointment where running was concerned.
In October of what would have been his junior year, Eichner went on leave. Typically he stayed close to his sport, working full-time in a running store in Terrell, North Carolina. The job allowed him to run three times a day, hardly what most people would consider time off, but for a distance runner it was just what the doctor would have ordered.
Eichner did more than run in the year off. He moved out of the world of college students and made several major changes in his life, including getting engaged, a decision that he feels has helped stabilize his life.
"I think taking time off from Harvard is good in the respect that you can see how the real world functions," Eichner says. "You get a chance to deal with a more human side of life instead of just working within the tight narrow framework formed by studies and sports."
Eichner returned from leave with his ambitions of running and studying still intact, but he has learned how to balance himself between the two.
An Economics major, Eichner hopes to attend med school and become an emergency room physician in a trauma center. He has considerable practical experience in that area--two summers working in hospital emergency rooms.
"One thing I've learned in my experiences so far is that if the medical community revised their requirements to forego certain obstacles, they would produce doctors with more human qualities," Eichner says. "There is just no comparison between the pre-med scene and the real world of practical medicine."
For right now the cross country star is taking everything one day at a time. For today he would like to complete his running comeback by contributing to a Harvard victory in this afternoon's Big Three Championship.
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