Martin Conrad: Golden Bear in Uniform

Oct. 29, 2002

By Debbie Rosenfeld-Caparaz

BERKELEY - Martin Conrad has had an affinity for uniforms ever since he grew up a Boy Scout in Southern California.

This week's uniform of choice will be worn as a member of the California cross country team. After almost a month off from competition, the senior looks to lead the Golden Bears at the Pac-10 Championships, Sat., Nov. 2, in Pasadena, Calif. Despite being a walk-on, Conrad is one of the leaders of this year's team.

Conrad joined the Bears' cross country and track and field programs in the fall of 1999 after leading Long Beach Polytechnic High School to two state track and field titles. He was a talented runner but was not highly recruited. After considering offers to compete at Brown University and for the U.S. Naval Academy, he opted to accept his admittance to Cal and try out as a distance runner.

The 21-year-old immediately earned a spot as a walk-on but only since the spring of 2002 has he emerged as one of Cal's top distance runners. At the 2002 Big Meet in Berkeley, Conrad finished second to Stanford's Jesse Thomas in the 3000m steeplechase with a career-best time of 8:56.65, placing him No. 7 on the Bears' all-time performers' chart.

This fall, Conrad has resumed where he left off in the spring. He opened the cross country season by winning the Berkeley Firetrail Challenge and the San Francisco Invitational. At the Bears' last competition, the Oct. 5 Indiana State Invitational, Conrad recorded a 25th-place showing against nationally-ranked competition.

'When you look at his background and how far he's come, it's amazing,' said Cal cross country coach Tony Sandoval. 'He's similar to other walk-ons who have come here and become elite-level athletes.'

Despite finishing second to Thomas at last year's Big Meet, Conrad identifies that race as the most memorable moment of his collegiate career.

'Thomas is an 8:39 steepler,' said Conrad. 'He was trying to shepherd the other Stanford runner to try to beat me in the end. I was able to keep up and made a move with about two and a half laps to go. Not only did I beat the guy he was trying to shepherd, even Thomas had to work to keep up with me. The crowd was into it.'

Conrad clocked a time of 9:38 in his first steeplechase as a sophomore, but he always believed in his ability to compete with elite athletes such as Thomas.

'You have to have the desire and drive to succeed,' said Conrad. 'If that's not there, if you don't really love running, you're not going to get anywhere. You'll come out and do the workouts, but if you don't have the competitive spirit, you're lacking something. I'd like to attribute a lot of it to my teammates and the general team atmosphere.'

Conrad is much more than an overachieving walk-on at Cal. He is on track to graduate next May with a double major in history and political science, and he currently boasts a 3.65 grade point average.

If that weren't enough, he is in his fourth year on an Air Force ROTC scholarship and is president of his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. He currently is Detachment 85's logistical support squadron commander, putting him in charge of maintenance, logistics, safety and transportation. ROTC activities consume at least 10 hours a week.

Military roots run deep in Conrad's family. His father, Allen, was in the U.S. Navy for 20 years. Martin's paternal grandfather served in the Marines during World War II, and his maternal grandfather was a 20-year Navy veteran, including a stint during World War II. Martin's younger brother, Jeremy, is on an Air Force ROTC scholarship at M.I.T., as well.

While growing up in a military family has influenced Martin's career choices, there also is a strong patriotic motivation.

'With everything this country has given me so far, including a good education in a great environment, I feel like I should devote some of my time and talent to the country to ensure that other people will get the same opportunities I did,' he said.

After graduation, Conrad is committed to a minimum of four years of active duty and four years in the reserves. But there's a strong possibility that he will pursue a long-term career in the Air Force. While many people in the Air Force ROTC are passionate about flying or navigating careers, Conrad is more interested in joining the Office of Special Investigation, which oversees crimes committed within the Air Force.

Even with his busy schedule at Cal, Conrad sees himself as a laid-back individual, who has the composure to succeed in all areas of his life.

'Having all of these experiences has adapted me to a hectic and active lifestyle,' said Conrad. 'Personally, I kind of like my lifestyle. I've had times over the summer where I'm just sitting around for a week or more. It's nice for about a week. But, then I think that I could be doing something with my life right now.'

Conrad will continue to do a lot with his life over the next seven months, wearing the blue and gold of a Cal student-athlete. After that, a finely pressed Air Force uniform suits him just fine.

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