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May 30, 2020

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"I wouldn't trade it for the world"

Kyle Neff can't imagine life without running

By Bud Denega, ONU sports information
Kyle Neff still remembers the day, April 30, 2012. It was on this day where Neff, an eighth-grader at the time, had to have surgery to remove a Brodie abscess in his leg. 

It laymen's terms, Neff had a small chunk of infected matter in his femur. In order to remedy the situation, Neff needed it removed, and the recovery time was extensive. 

It forced Neff to step away from his training, which was paramount seeing as he wanted to make a splash on the cross country circuit as a freshman at Walsh Jesuit High School. It wasn't the start he envisioned, and while he experienced success as a Warrior, he felt as though the slow start meant there was still something left untapped. 

"After senior year ended, I had a taste in my mouth. I knew there was more there, and I wanted to see where it could take me," Neff said. "I wanted some revenge on it. I felt as though I had some unfinished business."

Neff has carried this motivation throughout his four years at Ohio Northern, as he looks to finish strong in this his senior season. 

Neff's first trip to Ada, Ohio, wasn't on his official visit or for a campus tour. He had seen and experienced Ohio Northern many times as a kid and young teenager, accompanying his parents to numerous Homecoming weekends.

Both of Neff's parents attended, graduated and ran for the Polar Bears. In fact, it's where the two met before moving to Sagamore Hills and starting a family. 

When Neff knew he wanted a shot at revenge at his aforementioned injury, Northern was on his short list. When he determined that business was his major of choice and that ONU would challenge him academically, the choice not only made sense but it made the entire Neff family happy. 

"They were really excited, obviously," Neff said.

Neff remembers his first collegiate race. And it wasn't because of a stacked field of runners or due to a stellar time. He simply remembers the distance. 

Going from racing 5Ks as a high schooler to 8Ks as a collegiate athlete took some adjusting to, and Neff admits it was quite the learning curve. And even though his times, thereafter, didn't factor into much of the team scoring, head coach Jason Maus could always rely on Neff for a slew of intangibles. 

"Kyle is a wonderful young man, and you could tell that on Day 1 when he stepped on campus," Maus said. "Like a lot of distance runners, he's tough, really diligent, and it's hard to match his work ethic and his commitment. His passion for the program is second to none."

And while those characteristics left an indelible impression on the team, Neff wanted more. He wanted to play a larger role on the team in terms of his production. 

A switch flipped for Neff during his junior track season. He found a home as an 800-meter runner. This helped with his speed work, and he can already see the positive ripple effects it has had on his final cross country season. 

Neff has consistently resided in the 27 minutes this fall, placing seventh on the team in a loaded Louisville Classic field a couple weeks ago. Neff would like to keep shaving seconds off his personal best and slide under that 27-minute threshold before the season is done. 

While he'll always want the times to be lower, and he'll never stop putting in the work to accomplish that, cross country has meant a great deal to Neff. It's more than muddy cleats, a sweaty wristwatch and painful ice baths. It's a family tradition, pain for eight kilometers with your teammates, and countless unforgettable memories. 

"It's a brotherhood," Neff said. "Some of my best friends at ONU are my teammates. They are the ones I can lean on when I get my job and move out into the real world. … That camaraderie, I've loved. I wouldn't trade it for the world." 

April 30, 2012, for Neff, wasn't a day for celebration. It was a major setback. 

However, now, the day is a reminder of what life is like without running. It's a motivation to keep pushing and to never settle.