published Monday, November 21st, 2011

UTC runner Berry in national meet

Even being hit by a car didn't stop Chris Berry from his highest achievement as a runner.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fifth-year senior from Murfeesboro is competing today in the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at Terre Haute, Ind. He has been All-Southern Conference in the fall sport four times and won conference 10,000- and 5,000-meter titles in track, but this is his first national competition.

"It means a lot," he said Saturday after trying out the course.

As he started having success in his teens, he "imagined running in an NCAA championship," he said, and last year he thought he could join teammate Emmanuel Kirwa and make that dream come true. He fell in the region meet, however, and finished 20th -- all-region but not good enough to qualify for nationals.

Eighth in this year's regional at Tuscaloosa, Ala., he joins two UNC Greensboro runners as Southern Conference representatives in today's 10k, set to start just after noon.

Berry, who already has a sports administration degree and will get his M.B.A. in May, was fifth in the SoCon 8k meet after a third and two fourths in previous years. He redshirted in cross country in 2009.

"This was by far the toughest the conference has been [in the two decades] since I've been here," UTC coach Bill Gautier said.

"I'm really happy for Chris. He really deserves this opportunity. He averaged 90 to 100 miles of running a week during the summer, and then right before school started he was injured. Then when he was almost 100 percent back from that, a car ran a red light and hit him.

"I think he was in shock. He ran over to the [GPS] track, and when he got there he was all scraped up and bruised, and his shoe was tore up. The next day he was in a lot of pain."

Berry was hit on his right side, including the foot that had bothered him with an undiagnosed ailment -- "probably a little chronic tendinitis," he said -- and he admitted thinking briefly that all his hard training might be wasted.

"We played it smart for the next few days, but I didn't miss a lick, really," he said. "I didn't want to miss a single opportunity this season. To be competitive, first you've got to make it to the starting line, and the guys on the team needed me."

He extends that attitude through other endeavors. Gautier said Berry was one of "the main race directors" of the 2011 Riverbend Run, and he also has helped with the Komen Race for the Cure and been active in AAU basketball and church work. He's interning now with TVA in addition to taking night classes and doing all his running. He still has a final season remaining in both indoor and outdoor track.

"Chris has taken his spot in a long line of runners who have built our tradition. He's meant a lot to our program," Gautier said. "With his athletic and academic achievements and his community work, I would rate him one of the top Mocs ever."

Berry is beginning the week on a good note, but it will end even better. He and another senior UTC runner, Tara Gietema, are getting married Saturday. She also has graduated and is working on an M.B.A.

"Everything about UTC has exceeded my expectations as a senior in high school," Berry said, citing not only his relationships with Gietema and his teammates but his association with Gautier.

"He's my coach, a father figure and a best friend. He truly knows me," Berry said. "As far as my total development, I don't think I could have come to a better place."

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