Deneen makes good on unique middle name with U men’s track

by Susan Filkins

When junior hurdler Niles Deneen was born, his mother gave him the middle name Running. Ironically, the name Running had nothing to do with track at all.
“My mother had an art professor in college named Orville Running,” Deneen said. “She really admired him and was a very influential person in her experience in art. She wanted to pass that name on, and she gave it to me, not thinking I was going to be a runner or something.”
Niles Running Deneen’s track career began in eighth grade when he and a friend went over to the high school to join practice. The options were clear once they arrived: Anyone who wanted to run or do sprints had to run two miles around a lake. And those who wanted to do hurdles could stay on the track. For Deneen, the choice was simple.
“I was like, ‘Hmmm. I don’t want to run around a lake, so I think I’ll do hurdles,'” Deneen said. “And it was just like no big deal.”
Deneen said he began showing up at the high school and running a little bit. But there was one additional reason Deneen and his friend went to the track.
“My friend thought it would be a good idea to go and meet high school girls, but it didn’t happen,” Deneen said. “There really weren’t any attractive girls on the track team at our high school.”
When Deneen finally reached Como Park High School in St. Paul, he made a name for himself on the track team. Deneen completed his high school career by winning two state Class AA championship titles in both the 110-meter high hurdles and the 300 intermediate hurdles.
Deneen also lettered in hockey and soccer three years, before quitting both sports his senior year to concentrate on track.
“My sophomore year, I was nothing. And my junior year, I won two races at state and I was like, ‘Hey maybe I can do this,'” Deneen said.
His success brought him to Minnesota to run the 110 hurdles and the 4×110 hurdle relay. Deneen calls his first two years a learning experience but says this year he has been running more consistently.
A few weeks ago at the Drake Relays, Deneen anchored the 4×110 shuttle hurdle relay team, which won the first Minnesota relay title at Drake since 1955 with a time of 58.31 seconds. Deneen calls it one of the greatest moments he has experienced running track.
“When I started, we were behind and I caught up to the guy, and I passed him right at the finish line,” Deneen recalls. “It was definitely the highlight of my collegiate career.”
It was at the Drake Relays where Deneen exposed his new maroon- and gold-dyed hair.
“I wouldn’t say I dedicated the school colors for Drake, but it was blonde and maroon because maroon looked good with the jersey – that’s what my mom said anyways,” Deneen added.
The effects of his recent hair color experiments sparked his teammates and friends to call him Dennis Rodman, which Deneen does not mind, considering he sort of views Rodman as one of his idols.
“I kind of admire him but sometimes it’s hard to,” Deneen said. “He’s so outspoken, but then again, who he is and what he’s doing is remarkable.”
Deneen said he admires Rodman because he has dedicated his life to playing basketball and has finally achieved a position on a major sports team. He also said he respects the way Rodman keeps in perspective what it took to get where he is today.
Although Deneen does not expect to make it to the level in his sport as Rodman has, he said he hopes to become an All-American before he finishes his career at Minnesota.
When his running days are over, he plans to finish his degree in design and work for his father’s pottery business.
“He does this thing where he uses blades to make engravings on coffee mugs,” Deneen said. “I guess I could help work with that and there’s the ability to design as well. It puts food in my stomach and clothes on my back, so I can’t complain.”
For now though, Deneen will take his multicolored hair, Rodman-like attitude, and unique middle name to the track this weekend for the Minnesota Last Chance Meet at Bierman Track and Field Stadium this Saturday.