NAU men's cross country cements dynasty in dominating display

Senior Tyler greets people outside Walkup Skydome Nov. 18 after the Lumberjack men won their third straight national championship the previous day in Madison, Wis. Day was NAU's first finisher at sixth overall. 

Senior Tyler Day first noticed his speed and endurance as a kid when he was in elementary school. He outran his friends in almost every game. Never did anyone expect the fast boy from Gilbert, Arizona, to grow up to be NAU’s first recipient of the National Men’s Track Athlete of the Year award. Many who know Day would say the honor is well earned,

This all began when Day was younger, a hobby that started in the seventh grade. His skills were recognized early when he was running for Mesquite High School where he ran the 1,600m in 4:20.98, which was a new school record. He also had a 9:28.02 time on the 3,200m dash.

That doesn’t compare to what he had achieved when he went to NAU. For cross country, he is a three time All-American honors, three time Big Sky All-Academic team honoree, won NCAA Division I National Championship in cross country three times, and a host of other awards and honors spanning his young running career.

His decision to attend NAU was because it was in Arizona, somewhere closer to home. He did get many athletic and academic scholarships, including the Lumberjack scholarship, but that wasn’t what swayed his decision.

Day said NAU has a history of good distance runners, more so than other local colleges.

“It has a rich history of success, so that really attracted me to NAU a lot more,” Day said.

Day’s goals were always to earn All-American status and qualify for national championship meets. Earning those ranks and awards multiple times was a real surprise to him.

“The real goa,l I really was trying not to get injured, get an all-American in my four to five years here, try to get a national champion in five years, but never really break any records," Day said.

He gave credit to the coaches that trained him at NAU, like Mike Smith, the director of cross country and track & field, and assistant coach Jarred Cornfield.

Day called them phenomenal, crediting them for having great coaching stance, great training for distance runners, and having the teams do daily logs of their mileage, workout and times outside of their training.

“I think bottom line is if I get up and go for a run every day and stay healthy, then that contributes to the overall success I had," Day said.

Cornfield described Day as a positive, joking member of the team, but he is also very dedicated to his training and work in general.

Both Cornfield and Day came to NAU at the same time in 2015. He said Day is one of the best runners he had the pleasure of training.

“One of [Day’s] biggest strength is persistence and consistency and the drive to be one of the best,” Cornfield said. "His desire to push himself like that is very special.”

Cornfield was driving when the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) named Day the male track athlete of the year.

When he stopped and checked his phone on the stats, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I had a very emotional moment, almost tears, when it was announced,” Cornfield said. “I was really happy after all the hard work [Day] put into it.”

Charles Barker, Day’s best friend years before the start of his running career, wasn’t surprised at all.

Barker described how Day would just run around the playground at recess and was always studying. There was a drive and a willingness Day had that would push him to do better. He wasn’t interested in the awards, but rather to push himself. His goal has always been to beat his own times.

When Day started training and going on personal runs, Barker would be right beside him on his bike, a practice that began in junior high and that they continue to this day. Whether it’s raining or there’s no practice schedule, the two friends will be out together. Even with a set of wheels though, keeping up with Day is a challenge.

“He’ll be running 50 miles at a time,” Barker said with a chuckle.

Despite Day’s achievements and being far away from his friend, who is a mechanic back in Gilbert, they are still close.

When they’re not running or biking together, they are usually hanging out or playing baseball. No matter how many awards Day wins, it doesn’t change their relationship.

“He’s a great friend, always checking in,” Barker said. “Always caring.”

Day had enjoyed his experience in journalism, he loved the hands-on education, the awesome professors, and the general professionalism other students show at NAZ Today. He had also written articles for The Lumberjack as well.

“Wouldn’t have changed [my major] for the world,” Day said.

Day is unsure of his goals now aside from graduating, his prime reason for going to college. He said he is taking it day by day.

Events he wanted to participate in had been canceled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic, so he didn’t want to make any long-term plans right now. He considers the possibility of becoming a sponsored runner and just to keep running until he can’t anymore.

However, he also thought about returning to school again to get his master's degree.

“I wanted to get my college degree and have something to show people and say, hey, I did something more than just become an athlete. I also became educated and have a degree at a university. want people to know that I’m not just a runner,” Day said.

As for journalistic plans, he said he would be happy working for a local newspaper and writing stories that will ultimately benefit the community.

In his five years running with NAU, he has little regrets, many awards, and ran around most of North America and even in Peru. However, there is one honor he is happy to hold.

“The best thing to happen to me was becoming a Lumberjack, to put it in short words,” Day said.