Clarksville, Ark.-U of O junior cross country runner Tristan Cooper has always been a strong finisher and a hard worker whether it is on the course, in the classroom or at work.
Cooper’s mantra was evident at the American Southwest Conference Championships two weekends ago when he was able to hold off an opponent late in the race and finish second overall. It was the highest finish at the conference race for an Ozarks’ runner since 1996. He earned All-ASC First Team honors after posting a 26:52.47 in the 8K race that featured 90 runners.
“It is a nice feeling to finish that high,” said Cooper. “I haven’t really thought about it a whole lot. I’m glad the team did well, too. The first mile, the eventual winner, me and a teammate were together. The second mile, I fell back a little bit. At mile three or so, I started to catch up, and then my last mile I felt like I finished strong. I probably gained time on him the final mile.”
Head Coach Brian Hull saw Cooper’s stamina on display at the championship race, and believes his ability to push hard at the end of a race is what sets him apart.
“In the ASC Championships, he hung back at the beginning of the race,” said Hull. “By mile three he really started pushing it. He held off a runner from Texas-Dallas the last mile and was rewarded for it with a second place finish. He has the ability to go at several different paces, but he is a very strong finisher. He is much stronger at the back half of a race than at the beginning.”
Hull hopes the 5-foot-9, 140-pound native of Jasper continues that pace as he leads Ozarks into the NCAA III Regional Championship this weekend in Memphis. Only the top-35 runners qualify for the NCAA III Championships, which will be held November 20 at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.
“I think he can hit that top-35 at the NCAA III Regional,” said Hull. “He didn’t miss it by too much last year. We have run the Memphis course several times so he has a chance.”
Cooper is one of a group of four juniors who have helped the men’s cross country program be competitive the last three years. He and fellow classmate David James have battled back-and-forth for the team’s top spot since their freshman year.
“We do try to beat each other,” said Cooper. “It has been like that since the seventh grade. We are good friends. We push each other all the time and we each try to lead stuff during practice.”
Hull agrees the two have been able to push each other to greater heights.
“It is a friendly competition,” said Hull. “David and Tristan ran together for a time in high school so they have the background. They have known each other for a long time. Neither wants to lose. They want to see each other do the best they can. They motivate each other.”
While attending the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts his junior and senior year, Cooper ran for Hot Springs High School. Prior to that he ran at Jasper High School where he helped the Pirates to back-to-back state championships.
“I thought he could accomplish what he is achieving now,” said Hull. “He has gotten faster since high school. He is gradually improving his times at Ozarks and I expect him to continue to improve on those times.”
Cooper is accustomed to hard work and long hours. He grew up on his family farm and has always helped with the daily chores. In addition to being a student-athlete, he works one day a week at the US Forest Service Office in Clarksville.
“My family has made me work from a young age,” said Cooper. “I enjoy splitting firewood. I work at a saw mill on weekends.”
That hard work has also paid off in the classroom. The biology and environmental studies major has been on the ASC All-Academic Team twice.
“It is difficult to keep up with my athletics and academics,” said Cooper. “If I get stressed out, I just go run. If I get tired or bored with my homework, I go run. If I have a bad test, I go out and run really hard. Running helps me with my school work. It helps me clear my mind.”
Participating in college athletics is much more than running for the jovial Cooper. He enjoys the camaraderie developed on road trips.
“I enjoy going on the trips with the team,” he said. “I enjoy being around my teammates. I will continue to run when I graduate and probably run every day. I’ll probably do road races for the fun of it.”
Cooper’s best time of his career came at the Memphis Twilight earlier this year when he ran a 26:22.41 in the 8K. But according to Hull, the speedy Cooper is also running towards success in life.
“I think he is heading in the right direction,” said Hull. “He is setting himself up for a lot success in life. It is very difficult to be a student-athlete at the NCAA III level. He is an incredibly hard worker. He has his athletic and academic career very balanced.”