MONMOUTH — Western Oregon University junior cross-country runner Dustin Nading was looking for a way back to the Northwest.
Nading, born and raised in Washington, was attending Colby Community College in Colby, Kan.
"I felt like there were other schools that had opportunities for me," he said.
Specifically, he started looking at schools in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
As luck would have it, the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships were being held in Pittsburgh, Kan., that year and one of the schools that had piqued his interest, Western Oregon, had athletes competing.
Nading made the four-hour trip to watch the Wolves compete, and talk to track and field and cross-country coach Mike Johnson in person for the first time.
“We were standing there looking at the track and the first question he asked me is, ‘do you believe in free will,’” Nading said. “Normally, a coach asks what are your best marks or what are you looking to achieve? We had a discussion about whether I believed in free will or if everything is predestined in life. That first conversation still attracts me because there’s a sense on the team that you own your destiny.”
Nading never planned on being a runner.
“All my life, I was a wrestler,” Nading said. “My family wrestled for a long time. My grandpa was a state champion at the collegiate level in Oregon.”
It appeared wrestling was a Nading family tradition.
That is, until his high school wrestling coach unwittingly sent him toward a different path.
“My sophomore year, my wrestling coach told me I should go out for another sport during the spring,” he said. “He told me it would be good for me.”
Nading chose track and field. Before long, he fell in love with distance running.
“It's his fault,” Nading said, smiling.
He was able to run and wrestle through high school, but as the end of high school neared, Nading knew he had to make a choice. Ultimately, running provided something that he couldn’t pass up.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of moving fast,” Nading said.
Since arriving at WOU in 2016, Nading has had a significant impact, including a 10th-place finish at the 2016 GNAC Championships, and was part of the distance medley relay team that won a national title at the Indoor Track and Field Championships last spring.
"To go from watching Western compete and thinking, I want to be there, to being a part of the relay team a year later, it was cool to go from dreaming about it to living it,” he said.
That success has spread to the cross-country season.
Nading finished seventh overall at the San Francisco Invitational on Sept. 21, WOU's second runner behind David Ribich, who placed first overall.
The Wolves had five runners finish in the top 20 in that race, and was ranked No. 16 in the NCAA DII Coaches’ Poll on Sept. 27.
Nading credits the culture that Johnson has built.
“Every day you do a workout, you are aware that I get to decide how much I achieve,” Nading said. “You realize that you’re running as much for your teammates as yourself. That you won’t just be carried along. Success doesn’t just happen.”
The team aspect has been key.
“A lot of teams have a top individual or two individuals who are really good,” Nading said. “If you want to be really good, you have to be solid through your top seven runners or your top nine. When you run as a team, you realize ‘I'm not out here by myself.’ My teammates have the same goals as I do and that gives you a sense of greater purpose.”
The Wolves will compete at the Wes Cook Collegiate race on Oct. 14 in Salem before making final preparations for the GNAC Championships on Oct. 21 in Bellingham, Wash. WOU will host the NCAA Division II West Regional on Nov. 4.
"The whole team is excited moving forward," Nading said. "Everyone realizes how much conference and regionals means if we want to continue our season. We are well aware what it will take to compete at regionals. … The pain and discomfort is going to come. It's about staying focused, knowing you can do it, and going out there and actually doing it."