Going the Distance

McNeill 225x150

For alumnus David McNeill, London is a long way from Flagstaff. For McNeill, though, traveling great distances has never been a problem. As a four-year star at Northern Arizona University, he established himself as one of the best distance runners in the world, and used his time at the university as a springboard to the 2012 Summer Olympics, where he will compete for the Australian national team in the 5,000-meter race.

McNeill also came a long way just to get to Flagstaff. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he chose the university because of its excellent facilities and the opportunity to train consistently at a high altitude. Though McNeill says it took time to adjust to Flagstaff’s 7,000-foot elevation, he feels that his time at the university strengthened him in many ways.

“Australia is a fairly flat continent, so we don’t really have any high-altitude locations,” McNeill says. “I think the benefit and what I’ve learned from training at altitude has been long-lasting. And I think mentally, I’ve become a tougher and better competitor.”

University accomplishments

During McNeill’s career as a Lumberjack, he was named to the 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 Big Sky All-Academic cross country and track and field teams, but his biggest honor may have come at the national level when ESPN the Magazine named him to its Academic All-America® men’s track/cross country first team in 2009 and 2010. McNeill also excelled as a student, earning a 3.75 cumulative GPA as he earned his degree in exercise science.

Despite achieving personal success, McNeill credits his teammates and the feeling of camaraderie as the driving force behind his passion for running.

“I’m proud of being a part of that great team atmosphere and having the wisdom of Coach (Eric) Heins to learn from,” McNeill says. “You know, I had a fantastic experience. And I think that’s why I’m still doing it and why I’ve gotten to be in the Olympics; you don’t achieve these sorts of things on your own.”

“The drive to keep on trying”

Following graduation, McNeill decided to train for the 2012 Olympics, but was initially bogged down by a variety of issues, including injuries. Still, with the support of his former coaches, family, and current training partners in Tucson, McNeill never gave up, working himself back into solid mental, emotional, and physical shape.

McNeill says being named a member of the team in the 5000 meter event at the Australian Olympic qualifiers was a positive result he hadn’t quite expected following his setbacks during training.

“There was definitely an emotional component to it because about four months ago, it didn’t look like I was going to get to the Olympics,” McNeill says. “But the drive to keep on trying never subsided because there are a lot of people that never gave up on me and a lot of people that invested a lot of time and effort into me. I owed it to them to see it through.”

Catch David's event, the men's 5,000m, beginning on August 8.