By Anthony Stoeckert, Packet Media Group
Donn Cabral wants to make something clear: The run he’ll be leading around the Princeton University campus on April 16 isn’t a race.
The three-mile trek will give people the chance to run with an Olympic athlete and Princeton graduate who knows his way around campus. Cabral calls it a “pretty reasonable” run for recreational runners.
When asked if he thinks he’ll have to put any runners in their place who think they can keep up with him, Cabral laughed a bit and was quick to reply, “That’s why I want to make it clear that it’s not a race. I don’t want to engage that competitive mode. I just want to go for a nice Saturday stroll.”
That stroll is being sponsored by Berlitz Languages, Inc., where Mr. Cabral is studying Portuguese. Cabral grew up in Connecticut and attended Princeton, graduating in 2012 with a degree in economics.
He was also a member of Princeton’s track and field team, and was the 2012 NCAA steeplechase champion. He was an eight-time All-American, and a 10-time Ivy League champion. He also competed in the steeplechase at the 2012 Summer Olympics Games in London.
“Going to the Olympics is something that I’ve wanted since I watched my first Olympics, which was probably Atlanta in 1996,” Cabral said. “I remember watching Michael Johnson and watching a lot of swimming. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I thought I was going to be a swimmer or a basketball player or soccer player, anything. But I was thinking, ‘I’m going to go to the Olympics at some point in my life.’”
Competing in the Olympics resulted in a range of emotions.
“It was amazing, impressive, and life changing,” Cabral said. “But it was also extremely intimidating. I had finished my senior thesis, I graduated, I made the Olympic team, signed a professional contract, and then went to Europe, to race in Europe for the first time, and then go to the Olympics. Everything was so new, there were so many aspects of newness that I was confronted with.”
He also had to adjust to going from being the captain of his college team to a first-time Olympian.
“I felt like a freshman walking into the cafeteria,” he said. “All of a sudden I was back to square one.”
It was during his freshman year at Princeton when then-Princeton coach Steve Dolan told him that if he could shave 12 seconds off his steeplechase time that he had a chance of making the Olympic team.
“That kind of scared the crap out of me,” Cabral said. “It was really exciting at the same time, so that was the first time that I ever thought it was a real possibility, that if I did everything right, it could happen.”
After graduating, Mr. Cabral spent a year living in Washington state, and is now back in New Jersey, and is a member of the New Jersey New York Track Club in Clinton.
“I wanted to be back on the East Coast, where I’m comfortable at home and I have friends and family and a support system,” he said. “And I wanted to be with this team in particular because of the coach (Frank Gagliano) and the teammates.”
Studying at Berlitz has brought him back to his college town on a regular basis.
“I’ve been coming to Princeton twice a week, it’s gotten me back to the neighborhood, and I’m continuing to further my education,” Mr. Cabral said. “So they wanted to do something that combines what I’m doing now with what I’m known for, what I do best, so they’re hosting a run.”
He said that during the run, he’ll be near the front, with runners there running at around seven and a half or eight minutes per mile. There will be a runner from Pacers of Princeton near the middle of the group, and one in the back.
Cabral is eyeing a return to the Olympics, and is preparing for the Olympic Finals in Eugene, Oregon on July 4 and 8, where he needs to finish in the top 3 to compete in the Summer Games in Rio this August.
“I’m training hard but my life isn’t as hard as before because running is now a full-time job,” he said. “It’s no longer what I did when I wasn’t studying or doing homework. When I go back to Princeton, it reminds me that there are no excuses, I did it under much harder circumstances. I got the best out of myself and I should be able to do that now to an even better degree.”
The run will begin at 10 a.m. on April 16 at the Berlitz Princeton Learning Center, 264 Nassau St., Princeton.
To register, go to www.facebook.com/events/185679571810392/
By Anthony Stoeckert, Packet Media Group