Twice slowed, All-American Mead back to speed

As the anchor of the DMR at the Drake Relays, Hassan Mead pulled away to give Minnesota the win.

Dane Mizutani

The last 15 months may have been the most difficult of Hassan MeadâÄôs career.

It started in 2009 as a nagging AchillesâÄô tendon injury. In the fall of 2010, it appeared that the six-time All-American in track and cross country was ready to return.

But then, another setback âÄî Mead suffered a collapsed lung on Sept. 3 during a standard training run. He was sidelined for nearly another five months.

âÄúI didnâÄôt really expect that long of a setback,âÄù he said of the succession of injuries. âÄúIn this sport you kind of expect to have some bumps in the long road. It happened, and now all I can do is take time and do what is right to overcome this.âÄù

Mead made his unofficial comeback to the track Jan. 22 at the Jack Johnson Classic, and after his performance at last weekendâÄôs Drake Relays, it looks as if he has finally returned to full form.

Though Mead was forced to redshirt the entire 2010 season, an agonizing absence from competition, he said he understands that injuries are a part of everyday life.

âÄúHeâÄôs reacted to the challenge in a positive way,âÄù head coach Steve Plasencia said. âÄúInitially when he was in the hospital there were a couple times he got down from what I saw, but in regards to staying positive, heâÄôs really skilled at that.âÄù

It helped that Mead had the support of two families.

âÄúIt was incredible how much support I got from my teammates,âÄù Mead said. âÄúAlong with my relatives, my team was like another family.

âÄúI remember one of the nurses asking me if I wanted an extra room because I had so many visitors. It kept my mind from wandering around and getting frustrated with myself, so I couldnâÄôt thank them enough for being there when I needed them.âÄù

Back on the track, Mead repaid his teamâÄôs support in a way only he can.

As the anchor leg of the the distance medley relay at the Drake Relays, he proved he has regained his burst when he pulled away from WisconsinâÄôs Rob Finnerty and fended off IowaâÄôs Jeff Thodein the final 100 meters to win the race.

Did the outing represent a return to form?

âÄúYeah,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúI feel like everything is taken a day at a time so we just kind of approach it on a day at a time basis.âÄù

Yet even after his race at the Drake Relays, Plasencia said MeadâÄôs comeback is far from complete.

âÄúHeâÄôs done so many things in his previous seasons,âÄù he said. âÄúHis comeback is not going to be written yet because he has to equal and surpass some of the things heâÄôs done before, before he really feels like heâÄôs back.âÄù

Mead agreed and said he knows there are still ways he can improve coming off his back-to-back injuries.

âÄúItâÄôs coming along âÄî the speed is coming along âÄî and the more we race and the more we get going here towards the end of the season, itâÄôs definitely going to connect and itâÄôs going to be there,âÄù Mead said.

Although missing an entire season was undoubtedly a setback, it is some consolation that Mead received a medical hardship waiver and will be eligible next season.

âÄúWe havenâÄôt given up on this season either, because obviously he can still do some good things this season,âÄù Plasencia said. âÄúIâÄôm very, very happy heâÄôs going to be around another year.âÄù

Once Mead laces up his shoes for the final time in a Gophers uniform, Plasencia said there will be further track opportunities in front of him.

âÄúI think he would like to continue to see how far his talents in running take him, so IâÄôm sure heâÄôs going to continue to run seriously after college, provided the next year and a half goes smoothly,âÄù Plasencia said.

Mead echoed the notion of possibly competing at the next level but realized there is still work to take care of this season.

âÄúThere is potential outside of that, but at this point IâÄôm just taking it one step at a time because we really donâÄôt know what can come next,âÄù Mead said. âÄúThere is definitely the chance of doing something post-collegiate, but right now the Big Ten meet is next, and that is what we are focusing on.âÄù