BROCKTON, Mass. ---- Massasoit track & field student-athlete Kevin Baldwin will compete on Thursday at the NJCAA Division III National Track & Field Championship meet hosted by Mohawk Valley in Utica, N.Y., for the second time in a Warrior uniform. And for the second time, Baldwin will get a crack at one of the most difficult races in the sport, the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
The steeplechase is a very unique event, testing not only an individual's mental ability and endurance, but the ability to run for speed and distance while also avoiding obstacles.
The race features seven-and-a-half laps, totaling just under two miles and 35 total barriers to jump over. The barriers include 28 hurdles and seven larger hurdles, followed by a drop off featuring and angled pool that is 28 inches deep that then slopes up to level off with the track.
Baldwin, a 22-year old sophomore, originally from San Jose, California, has embraced this daunting race and has continued to excel, despite only running track for one season in high school.
In his first season, back in 2016, Baldwin qualified for Nationals in the event and finished seventh overall in a then school record time of 11:18.54, earning United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-American honors.
After a year hiatus from competing, Baldwin returned in 2018, qualifying in the event yet again and smashing his own school record by over 30 seconds at MIT this season, clocking a 10:42.84.
But how did a student, with little track experience pick such an obscure event and excel so quickly?
Fourth year head coach Matt Jordan put in simply that grit and perseverance are what have allowed Baldwin to succeed.
"Grit, but also perseverance," Jordan said. "That's a race that is so easy to mentally go through the motions. Not only do you need to keep pushing through the race, but also race the people around you. It's easy to focus on yourself, but the reality is if you are aware of your surroundings and take some slight advantages and if you just go for it you can succeed."
Going for it is certainly what Baldwin has done on the track for the Warriors over his two-year career, setting five individual school records as well as being a part of two relay records at Massasoit.
A former high school cross country runner, Baldwin pointed out that track really was not for him. But, Baldwin had the itch to compete again in 2016 so he decided to give track another shot. Coach Jordan's flexibility gave Baldwin the opportunity to try an event that had more challenges than left-hand turns. So Baldwin picked the steeplechase in Massasoit's first meet, at the Smith College Pioneer Invitational back in April of 2016.
"It was because (the steeplechase) had variety," Baldwin said. "I can't just run left turns. I needed something to break it up. Being a bigger person as an endurance runner, I struggled with keeping a fast-fast pace. The steeplechase is a competition where I knew the pain threshold is the whole time, rather than it being straight-a-ways and turns.
"I did one season of winter track in high school and it was all left turns. I was forced into doing the distance events. Here I was able to pick whatever events I wanted to compete in, so I figured I'd take the craziest event there is."
Running the steeplechase is not the craziest athletic event Baldwin has competed in. In fact, far from it. The Cali native has competed in triathlons prior to his time in Brockton…50 or 60 of them he said.
"I've always been a competitor and Massasoit having track gave me that opportunity to compete and the it gives me the adrenaline rush that I seek," he said. "Running a triathlon is a beast and so is the steeplechase."
With endurance being an obvious key factor in triathlons and the steeplechase, Baldwin also pointed out that there are many similarities between the steeplechase and cross country.
"I think I've also enjoyed the event because it is similar to cross country," Baldwin said. "In cross country I thrived in the water crossings, the random hills, the unknown of the trail. Because anyone can keep a speed for a certain amount of time, but keeping that speed when you hit road blocks is where I did well. It's just separating the men from the boys because not many people can handle the steeplechase," Baldwin said with a grin.
Since his first time attempting the event, Baldwin has dropped almost two whole minutes. Coach Jordan points out that accelerating before and after his jumps has been a major factor in his success this year, while Baldwin states Jordan's training regimen has also been a major player in this season.
Baldwin also noted that a key to success this time around at the Nationals will be keeping a consistent pace and running his race, to improve on his seventh place finish two years ago.
"The key is not to get sucked into the leaders," Baldwin said. "Last Nationals, I got so caught up in people pushing me, that I got angry and I outran the first couple of laps. The truth is, only one or two of the guys from the first pack are going to be able to keep that pace the whole time. Everyone else is getting pulled into it. What I had to tell myself going into the MIT was to keep my pace, which was going 80 seconds per lap."
However Baldwin does on Thursday, Jordan has been impressed with how his steeplechaser has matured and been a role model to the younger student-athletes on the team. Not only has he made time to train and help train his teammates, Baldwin is an engineering major and runs his own lawn and tree maintenance service in Foxboro, Kevin the Contractor.
"He's very unselfish," Jordan said. "He is always willing to help his teammates get better. He's been a huge help this season with workouts and been a tremendous help to me as a coach. He's always extremely invested in the entire team and every individual and what their events are – to knowing the national cuts and how far everyone is away from them. He is an incredible team leader and teammate. He puts 110 percent into it. Same with training, same with his school work. He's just that kind of guy. It's been great to see him progress not only as an athlete, but as an individual as well."
Baldwin could not be more excited for the race on Thursday. Whatever happens, he plans to leave everything out there and could not be happier with the decision to not only come to Massasoit but compete for the track & field team.
"Massasoit has really helped me," Baldwin said. "A lot of people had written me off for taking the abnormal break from high school to college. This worked for me because I could afford it and it gave me the college experience and getting to compete in athletics has been amazing. It continues to open more doors and helps me stay focused."
Baldwin is one of 12 student-athletes that qualified in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the NCJAA Division III level. His race is scheduled for 5:15 PM on Thursday.