By Rob Moseley
Travelling two dramatically different speeds, Mike Berry could achieve a pair of life-altering goals later this month.
Next week at Hayward Field, Berry will toe the line in the 400 meters for the NCAA Outdoor championships. After finishing third as a freshman in 2011 and second as a sophomore, the Oregon senior would like nothing more than to cap his career with an individual title – and perhaps help the Ducks bring home a team championship, too.
Then, on June 16, Berry will walk across a stage and receive his diploma as a UO graduate. His pace may be considerably slower for that event, but Berry’s pride in the achievement couldn’t be any bigger.
“I’m the first in my family to graduate from college,” the Seattle native said. “So that’s a big honor, for me and my family. Bringing a diploma back home is something I dreamed about as a kid.”
Bringing home an NCAA title wouldn’t be bad, either.
Berry has already enjoyed an incredibly decorated career with the Ducks. He has a world championships gold medal, having helped the U.S. team qualify for the 4x400-meter finals before winning in 2012. His personal best of 44.75 seconds is one of three times Berry has run under the elusive 45-second barrier.
An NCAA title is about the only thing missing from Berry’s sterling resume. That’s something he can fix next week.
“You’re anxious to run fast and put on a show,” Berry said. “It’s my last track meet (in college), so I definitely want to go out with a bang. But my big thing is, stay focused.”
Berry learned that lesson the hard way in 2013, when he finished ninth in the 400 at the NCAA Outdoor championships, failing to advance to the final. Thus, his focus at the moment doesn’t extend beyond the semifinal rounds of the 400 on the meet’s opening day, Wednesday.
“That’s the biggest thing, not letting the meet get too big,” Berry said. “We’ve just got to stay composed and do what we did to get here.”
Berry’s schedule also figures to include the 4x400 semifinals Thursday. The 400 final is scheduled for Friday, and the 4x400 final will close the meet on Saturday.
Having run 45.39 in the 400 at the NCAA preliminary meet in Fayetteville, Ark., Berry was the seventh-fastest qualifier into the NCAA Championships. Track & Field News, however, projected him to finish third, no doubt based on Berry’s season-best time of 45.04, second-fastest in the NCAA this year.
Berry will try to bust that form chart, and help the Ducks do so in the 4x400. Oregon’s quartet ran 3:04.10 in the preliminary round, sixth-fastest in the NCAA, but is pegged for a seventh-place finish next week by Track & Field News.
One projection Berry and the Ducks are quite comfortable with is Track & Field News’ pick of the Ducks to win the team title. Berry said he can remember being the team’s only scorer in the NCAA Indoor championships just two years ago.
“I’ve seen the program change and get to this high level we’re at now,” Berry said. “So I’ve definitely had a good career. But I want to go out on top.”
However he goes out, Berry will ultimately transition into a career in youth counseling. A family and human services major, Berry has mentored at-risk youth at a facility across the street from Autzen Stadium.
“I feel like they need a mentor, and I’m a good one considering the road I came and the hurdles I jumped over,” Berry said.
In between, Berry will pursue a professional running career. But first, he’d like to enjoy a championship performance next week at Hayward Field, both individually and for his team.
“We’ve been training all year long for this moment,” Berry said. “We just want to compete at the best of our abilities, and when we do that, usually we come out with a good performance.”