ACPHS In The News

Haak inspires track and field national champs

Ryan Haak running on the track at the USCAA national championships in Springfield, Mass. on April 27, 2024
April 30, 2024

When he qualified for finals at the 2024 Penn Relays on Friday, April 26, Ryan Haak found himself with a decision he had not thought he’d have to make.

He saw the chance to compete in the oldest, largest, highly selective Division I track and field meet in the country as achievement enough. He saw the likelihood of qualifying for finals as slim, as he’d be running against some of the top collegiate athletes in the country, including one training for Olympic trials.

So Haak’s plan was to run in Philadelphia, soak in the once-in-a-lifetime experience with thousands of competitors and perhaps 100,000 spectators, then unite with his ACPHS cross-country teammates the next day at the USCAA Nationals in Springfield, Mass. There, he would help bring home a long-desired victory in that small-college athletic conference.

Instead, his spectacular time of 10.45 seconds in the 100-meter dash – breaking the school record (his own) – gave him the sixth fastest time at Friday's races. He qualified to compete Saturday against some of the best runners in the country, from Georgetown, Syracuse and the University of Houston.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Haak, who is slated to receive his doctorate in pharmacy on May 11. “I’m still at a loss for words even after a few days.”

Haak had a decision to make. If he stayed at the Penn Relays, he would miss his team’s final meet – the final meet of his college career and one his team had been working toward.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was the Panthers’ own coach, Samson Dikeman, who told Haak that’s exactly what he should do.

True, the Panthers were salivating for the USCAA title, their first shot at the national championship after winning the regional Yankee Small College Conference title three years running. But Dikeman, who had worked hard to get Penn officials to allow ACPHS’ “once-in-a-generation runner” to compete, told Haak the team would have another shot at the championships. Running in the finals at the renowned Penn Relays, on the other hand, was an individual experience that Haak would never have another shot at.

It was not an easy decision, Haak said, and he knew his team would be proud of him either way. But in the end, after conversations with family and friends, his heart was with his team. Winning a national championship with his fellow Panthers had been a goal for a lot longer than running in Philadelphia had been, he said.

“I had already had probably the best race of my life and an incredible experience,” Haak said about Friday’s meet. “So I felt almost as if it was better to leave and be able to also help my team, and have two good days back-to-back, and everyone could enjoy the results of each day.”

For the Panthers, Haak’s decision was just the fuel they needed to bring home the USCAA title on Saturday in Springfield. Haak won both the 100m and 200m races in that contest and brought home points in the 400m dash too. (He is pictured above running in Springfield.) 

What may have been just as significant, Dikeman said, was the impact his presence had on the rest of the team, among the strongest the coach has seen at ACPHS.

Dikeman struggled during an interview Monday to find the right words to express what had happened – how it felt to watch an athlete he had worked with for six years, who had arrived at ACPHS as a baseball player and worked hard to become an elite runner, and how it felt to see him selflessly choose his team over individual success.

“It’s absurd,” Dikeman said, “in the best way. To be on the precipice of incredible individual achievement, to make the decision to forgo that personal success to win that championship with his team is a unique attribute that you won’t see in many athletes.

“It’s the stuff they write about in stories.”

Below: the men's track and field team with their medals after winning the USCAA championship.