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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Adkins’ Olympic spark ignited the young Long Islander. “I had run in and out of school for a number of years. When I entered high school at Half Hollow Hills West, they had a kind of a sprint-oriented program,” Merber offers. “But my coaches knew I wanted to be a distance runner. So we figured it out together, how to make it work. Of course, it meant a lot of running alone for a while. But together we just figured out the plan – what worked and what didn’t work,” he explains. “I was a solid freshman – nothing crazy – but probably a little bit better than average. I hardly broke 5:00 for the mile. It was a steady progression. By my junior year, I was becoming competitive enough to be recruited by colleges. And my senior year really took off – I won cross country, won the mile indoors, won the mile outdoors, and just really, really found my stride,” explains Merber in reeling off his senior year state titles. “It was just a matter of steady progression and figuring things out.”

Armed with solid academic credentials and a 1600m high school best of 4:11.6, Merber headed across town to Columbia University. “One of the things I really liked about Columbia is that I could come in and – while not the best on the team – be able to make an impact,” Merber reveals. “During my high school experience, Half Hollow Hills West got a lot better. And I really, really enjoyed that process and in seeing that development. So it was really important to me in college to be able to be a contributor to that growth again,” cites Merber in identifying his attraction to Morningside Heights. “In my freshman year, Columbia did not make the national meet – and we never had,” states Merber in noting the team goal in getting the Lions to the NCAA cross country nationals. “But by my senior year, we qualified for nationals for the first time. That sort of progression is something that I am really proud of, to have been a part of. And so for me in going to Columbia, that was a huge, huge factor.”

As was the case in high school, Merber’s unwavering commitment to running continued to generate further progression: running a sub-4:00 mile as a sophomore to set a new Ivy record; and collecting various Ivy titles along the way. But the unquestioned capstone of his collegiate career was his unexpected, sparkling 1500 meter performance in a most unlikely setting: a last chance meet at Swarthmore College in the 2012. “There were a bunch of professionals that were going for the Olympic standard. And so I was able to sneak my way into the race as probably the last entrant in the field,” explains Merber as he proceeds to outline how this up-tempo race unfolded. “The pace was quick. Nick Willis was rabbiting his teammates. And I just kinda got in line. They were going way faster than I had ever gone out before,” offers the former Ivy League athlete. “But I just got in line and hit my time and realized that I was good to go, feeling way better than I had ever felt despite being really faster than I have ever been. I just got competitive and tried to win the race. The time came – and I did it,” explains Merber who won in an astonishing 3:35.59, a clocking that ranked as the second-fastest collegiate mark of all time. “I was really, really lucky to be in a race like that. I don’t think a lot of collegians ever even get into 3:35 races. I think it was a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, and feeling good at the right time.”

After an ill-fated, injury-riddled 5th year at the University of Texas, Merber came back home – back to the greater New York area. “When I finished up at Texas, there were no shoe companies knocking down the doors to get me anymore. So I came back to the New Jersey/ New York area and joined up with Coach [Frank] Gagliano and ran for the [New Jersey/New York Track] Club.” Merber thrives under Gagliano’s tutelage. “I think Gags’s greatest asset is his ability to make you think you can do things that you didn’t previously believe to be possible. When Gags tells me that I can run a certain time or beat a certain person, I trust him. And that’s a huge mental barrier that athletes are always working to get over. For Coach to instill that sort of confidence in you, it really aids in jumping to that next level.” The young middle distance star is also a disciple of the Gagliano training approach. “The thing Gags always says is, ‘You put strength and speed in a bowl, you mix it up, and you get a champion,’” smiles Merber. “We at all times of the year touch all systems. Monday would be strength work, long intervals. Wednesday would be a tempo in the morning and hills in the evening. And then Friday would be speed, turning it over. I do a two-hour run on Saturday. And with everything in between, I hit about 90 miles a week.”

The high water mark of Merber’s still-nascent professional career has to be his lead-off contribution to Team USA’s world record-setting performance in the distance medley relay at this spring’s IAAF World Relay Championships. After opening with “a tactical 2:53” 1200 meter leg, Merber waited nervously as Brycen Spratling [400m] and Brandon Johnson [800m] got the baton around to Ben Blankenship [1600m]. “I realized with 200 to go that we had a really good shot at not only the win but also the record,” recalls Merber who was mentally calculating splits during Blankenship’s anchor leg. “It was awesome,” declares Merber of Blankenship’s stirring drive to the line. The USA’s winning mark of 9:15.50, shaved .06 seconds off Kenya’s 2006 global best. The internet is replete with photos capturing the Americans’ post-race celebration – as relay mates can be seen visibly restraining an overly-exuberant Merber. “I get a little excited…” admits Merber sheepishly.

Merber knows his homecoming to the greater New York area – along with Gags’ oversight and his relationship with Hoka One One – has given him the stability he needs to go to the next level. “I am officially still a Long Island resident. But I still split of time between Clinton, New Jersey, Long Island, and New York City where my girlfriend lives.” With 2015 serving as yet another year of progression – an indoor PR in the 2000m, outdoor lifetime bests in the 1500m and the 3000m; a 6th place finish in the tactical USATF outdoor 1500m; and the WR in the DMR – Kyle Merber embraces his post-collegiate life as a professional athlete. “It is even better than I imagined,” notes Merber, citing his singular focus. “With just everything that you do, you can focus entirely on becoming the best athlete possible. It’s really, really easy to put your energy in when you wake up in the morning and the only goal is to get better.”

Merber has no hesitation proclaiming – and his pledge is buttressed by similar declarations on his blog – that when his elite racing days have concluded, he wants to find a way to give back to the sport that has been so good to him. “I don’t know the exact best way. I’m sure after my career I’ll jump around to a number of different opportunities in track and field until I find a place where I can help contribute the most. I’ve got a lot of ideas,” explains Merber who was the organizational mastermind – and a 3:58 3rd place finisher – at this fall’s highly-successful Hoka One One Long Island Mile. Bold pronouncements by a twenty-something might easily be discounted as the passing fancy of a bright-eyed, innocent young adult. But when you realize that the young Merber who purposefully embraced track and field as a first grader is now the professional athlete currently knocking on the door of world class middle distance racing, you suddenly understand that the stated commitment of Kyle Merber to give back to the sport is likely more than just a millennial’s wistful dream.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.