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It is often difficult for promising track & field collegians to make a seamless transition from attentive, multi-faceted university support to the widely-different, often solitary existence they face as post-collegiate athletes. Just as they do in their sport, the better ones ultimately make the necessary adjustments and continue to progress.

Donn Cabral is one of those better athletes. Few Ivy League athletes have had careers that compare with the spectacular athletic résumé Cabral authored while at Princeton. As a senior, the 9-time All-American – one of the greatest distance runners in Ivy League history – was named the Outstanding Male Competitor at the Penn Relays after he anchored the Tigers to come-from-behind victories in two key relays; set the new NCAA 3000 meter steeplechase record at 8:19.14; captured the NCAA steeple title; earned a steeplechase berth on the U.S. Olympic team; and made the steeple final at the London Games where the young, first-time Olympian finished a most-respectable 8th.

But after the ’12 Games, the new Nike athlete confronted some challenges that thwarted his expected, ongoing improvement. His move to Washington state to pair up with his former high school coach resulted in a drastic lifestyle change that left him feeling alone and unsupported. “I had no thesis to write. I had no paper to study for. I had no meetings to go to,” Cabral explains. “It was just 'run fast, work hard, and recover.' That was all I did. And I kind of went stagnant a little bit mentally.” After Cabral later became mysteriously ill – finally detected to be Lyme disease – he knew he had to make a change. “I realized that I was unsatisfied and a little bit unhappy where I was. And once the running was gone, I just realized that I needed to do something different."

Cabral moved back to the East Coast to join the New Jersey/New York Track Club in the fall of 2013. His return – giving the young athlete the teammates, training partners, and support system he lacked – proved to be the missing ingredient for his renewed success. After finishing 3rd in the outdoor national steeplechase final the next summer, Cabral returned to the nationals in 2015 to finish 2nd in the steeple while setting a massive personal best – 8:13.37 – a mark that ranks him as the 7th fastest American ever in the event. “That 6 second improvement was the first time I had PR'd in the steeplechase since May of my senior year," notes Cabral.

Cabral’s restored progression has rekindled his optimism about this Olympic year. "The best approach for me is to call upon my really good ability to focus intently on something for a long period of time,” offers Cabral who clocked an indoor flat 3000 meter PR of 7:47.18 in last month’s Millrose Games. “I am now clearly ready to commit myself fully to be an Olympian again. This year I don't want to just survive. Olympic years happen only once every four years and nothing is guaranteed. So I have to do a better job of taking advantage of it. I want be able to go escape and put in a ton more training and really have two big periods of focus: qualify for the Olympics and do something really big there."

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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