Webster's Positive Outlook Keeps Him On Target
By Josh Carter
Rob Webster is running toward his goals - literally. The University of Washington distance runner who led his cross country team as its number one runner in the 2010 Pac-10 Championships is preparing for his next objective: success once again this postseason.
The UW junior has been running since he can remember. He says that running has been ingrained in his life literally since he was a baby. His father, Rob Webster Sr., an All-American mid-distance runner at UW in the early 80s who held the 800m record at the school for 24 years, played a key role in developing his son's love for the sport.
"We have pictures of him pushing me in a baby stroller in a 10k, outkicking a bunch of guys," Webster says.
Living with his coach - quite literally, as Webster Sr. coached cross country at Puyallup HS where Webster attended - meant that he never got away from the sport.
"I was always taught that you never take a break from being an athlete," Webster says. "You look at everything with the mindset, 'Will this hurt me or help me?'"
Webster's father also made sure that his son pursued his other passions, including triathlons. Webster, a firm believer in cross training, finds that he not only loves triathlons, but that they also boost his cross country skills. Little did Webster know that this very passion would play a major role in his future.
Having someone as dedicated to running as his father helped foster the right attitude in Webster. He taught his son to work hard at what he did and train to be the best. Webster credits his father for adequately preparing him for collegiate level athletics.
"Running was something I always knew I was going to do," Webster says. "I learned to do everything I can to be the best distance runner I can be."
Webster redshirted his freshman year, opting to save a year of eligibility for later in his career when he will be most valuable to the team. Going from a top high school athlete to a non-competition runner in just one year is a big change, but one that is well worth it, according to Webster.
"Coming in as a young 18-year-old is a hard transition right out of high school," Webster says. "I doubled my weekly mileage right when I got here, so it's good to have that adjustment year."
Many of the lessons his father taught him growing up helped Webster find success at the college level. His father trained him in the importance of sacrifice, giving up something important for something even more important. This translated to not partying or staying up late, not eating the typical college student's diet, and simply not having much free time.
"When I got to the UW," Webster says, "someone told me there are three parts to college for an athlete: sports, schoolwork, and social life. You get to pick two."
Knowing what his priorities needed to be, Webster found that his social life comprised of his teammates. This close bond strengthens the team and creates lasting friendships. The importance of these relationships and the support of his teammates became even more evident to Webster when his running career took a frightening turn last spring, as he entered the toughest phase of his running career.
While running a 5k at the University of Oregon, Webster began to experience severe pain in his right shin. He immediately knew something was wrong.
"I couldn't run more than 20 minutes without pain in my shin. I got on the bus to go home and my shin throbbed the entire ride from Eugene to Seattle," Webster says. "I took a week off and then returned, limping to my workouts. That's when I realized there is just no way I can run through this. It felt like my leg was stabbing me."
Doctors told him his shin splints had turned into a stress fracture on his lower right leg. In order to return without any lasting consequences, Webster would need to stop running and rehabilitate the leg for eight to ten weeks.
"Seeing the last part of my outdoor season slip away was depressing," Webster says. "I was scratching my head and realized I had to go back to the drawing board."
Webster entered the summer knowing what lay ahead. He realized that in order to make a successful return, he would need a strong, positive attitude and a motivated work ethic. However, when an athlete is not able to participate in the sport he loves, where does he turn to for that motivation?
Webster found his outlet in triathlon training.
"The doctors said I couldn't run, so I focused on biking and swimming to stay in shape," Webster says. "A lot of [injured] guys will spin on the exercise bike for half an hour to try to stay in shape, but I was able to use my bike and pool triathlon workouts to keep an edge on other guys."
Instead of giving up or reluctantly going through the rehabilitation process, Webster turned from running to his next passion.
"I thought about how bad I wanted [to get back to running] every time I was on the bike or in the pool," he says.
The doctors' recovery estimates for Webster turned from eight to ten weeks into 18 weeks. These added weeks stressed the need for Webster to remain positive.
"At first it didn't seem like I had a productive summer, but as the weeks have gone on and on, things have shifted," Webster says. "My legs are coming back and I'm more comfortable with higher speeds."
He finally returned to competition two weeks ago in Wisconsin.
"It was all right," Webster says. "I didn't start out very well; it definitely was not an indicator of what I'm capable of doing."
Webster remains positive, seeing improvement each day as he gets ready for the Pac-12 Championships this weekend. His confident and optimistic attitude, cultivated in him by his father, has carried him through his trying summer and led him to where he is now.
"I realize now the timing of my injury was fortunate. A lot of guys get injured at the beginning of the season and miss the whole thing," Webster says. "I had the entire summer to recover and have lots of opportunities to improve. I'm pretty blessed to do well."