BEING 6-foot-5 and full of endurance, Curtis Carr was the ideal candidate for a steeplechaser when he left Brown County for Brigham Young University.
Six years later, Carr is one of the top steeplechasers in the country. The junior finished fourth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 8 minutes, 40.87 seconds in the NCAA Championships earlier this month in Eugene, Ore. He was the top American.
“Coming in my freshman year, my coach realized that I was tall, and he noticed that I was flexible and relatively athletic for a distance runner, so he suggested that I start training for the steeplechase,” Carr said. “We tried it out, and my freshman year went pretty well.”
Carr, who finished as state runner-up in cross-country and in the 1,600 meters in track as a senior at Brown County, had never ran the steeplechase before he arrived at BYU. The event, which is not contested at the high school level in Indiana, is 7½ laps, with four 36-inch barriers, plus another barrier with a water jump on each lap.
“Going into it, I was excited because my coach had a lot of confidence me,” Carr said. “I ran a 9:23 in first race, which is super slow for the steeplechase. I got discouraged, and the guys on the team who were seniors were telling me that’s normal for your first race. So I stuck with it, and I’m glad that I did.”
By the end of his freshman year, Carr qualified for the NCAA Regional but was stung by a wasp on the bottom of his foot the day before the event. He came back to win the USA Junior Nationals and finished 10th in the 2008 World Junior Championships in Poland.
“Since then, my steeplechase career had been sort of anticlimactic due to injuries usually sustained training indoors until this season,” Carr said.
There was also the matter of a two-year Mormon mission, a BYU staple.
Following his freshman year, Carr spent two years in San Jose, Costa Rica. He walked around talking to people about the Bible and Book of Mormon, taught English classes once a week and helped people who were struggling with addictions.
Carr played some soccer but did little running.
“I was really excited to get back into running,” Carr said. “I had a lot of internal motivation and drive. My mind was willing, but it took my body a lot to catch up.”
So after returning to BYU, Carr took redshirt years in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track in the 2010-11 school year. He was the No. 5 runner for the cross-country team in 2011 but was injured most of last season and was an alternate for the NCAA Championships.
“That’s kind of been the story of my career — various injuries that have kept me from training,” Carr said. “The reason I was able to do well (in track) this year is I was able to put a good six weeks together and peak at the right time for nationals.”
“Curtis has dealt with injuries all season, so we were relieved he qualified for regionals,” BYU coach Mark Robison told byucougars.com. “He only had one month of really good training, but Ed (Eyestone) did a great job getting him ready, and he finished the season really strong.”
Eyestone — who won NCAA cross-country, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter titles in the 1980s and was two-time Olympian in the marathon — is an assistant for the Cougars. BYU also has recent NCAA steeplechase champions in Josh McAdams (2006) and Kyle Perry (2009).
“BYU is kind of known as a good steeplechasing university,” Carr said. “Those guys kind of set the tone and gave me the vision to compete at nationals.”
“It was kind of interesting because he had the speed, coming in state runner-up in the 5K and the (1,600),” Brown County cross-country and track coach Rob Abraham said. “He’s had the speed, and I know that he’s had somewhat of a rocky year this year. It’s great to see everything come together for him.”
Carr, who majors in economics, is doing a financial advising internship this summer with Northwestern Mutual in Provo, Utah, this summer. And, of course, he’s training for his senior seasons.
“Ideally next year, I’ll be healthy, and I’ll be able to put in the 5K and the 1,500 and then start my steeplechase races to qualify for regional and nationals,” Carr said. “I want to see how much lower I can go in those events.
“My goal is definitely to improve on this season,” he said. “If I get top three, I’ll be pleased, and anything more than that will be icing on the cake. Obviously, I’m shooting for No. 1.”