After Reviving SLU X-Country Pullock Kept On Running
By Ibadat Javed '22
SLU Athletics Picture this.
Five college-aged men pile into Bill Pontius' (Class of 1972) Volkswagen Van with a blown-out engine that barely makes it past 25 mph on a good day to drive to a cross country meet at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 1970. These men were the first few members of the revived St. Lawrence University cross-country team, which had been disbanded after about a decade of competition in the 1930s. When Lee Pollock '74 first arrived on campus in 1970 after a promising running career at Glen Falls High School, he decided to start a team to continue his running career. As a freshman, he found a faculty advisor — Tom Green — and recruited four other runners, ensuring that they had enough people to compete as a team. Pollock won the individual title at the Independent College Athletic Conference (ICAC) Championship that year, but the team still had plenty of room for improvement, finishing dead last in sixth place. The following year, the team began to improve; their passion for running, combined with Pollock's leadership efforts allowed the team to place fifth at ICACs, while Pollock repeated as the meet champion and became St. Lawrence's first and only individual qualifier for the NCAA College Division Championship. (The NCAA implemented its current Division I, II and III championship model in 1973.) The 1972 St. Lawrence University men's cross country team. Lee Pollock '74 stands just right of center. The Saints' progress did not stop there; in 1972, St. Lawrence placed third at ICACs, with Pollock finishing fifth. Perhaps more importantly, he was followed closely behind by freshmen Bruce Doll '76 and John Mackay '76, who took sixth and seventh place, respectively. The team, which started off as a small group of individuals brought together by their love for running, was on the brink of becoming a dominating force in the ICAC. "Cross country and St. Lawrence was just a great match; rugged individualism, self-reliance, yet a sense of camaraderie," says Pollock, a retired insurance professional who now lives in Queensbury, New York. During Pollock's senior year, he was not only the captain of the team, but also the coach. "I had to come up with workouts, hand out towels, and race uniforms, in addition to my running role on the team," Pollock chuckles. "My senior year, the university gave us a van and I became the bus driver too." There were three returners on the team that year and three incoming freshmen: Larry Fay '78, Rob Durfee '77, and Tom McGann '77. Pollock credited the trio's determination and intensity as key factor that contributed to the team's success and culture that year, as the Saints won the first of seven straight ICAC titles, with Pollock claiming his third individual title. After graduation, Pollock joined the Peace Corps and spent a couple of years in Nepal, an experience that would later inspire him to give back through running. “I came back from Nepal and I thought, let me see what's going on in the running community,” says Pollock, who was inducted into the St. Lawrence Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992. “I ended up in Boulder, Colorado which was the mecca of running in the late 1970s and '80s.” In 1978, he ran his first marathon at the Empire State Games in Liverpool, New York, and finished in 2:32:28. Later in the year, Pollock competed in the Mt. Sac National Track and Field Invitational and qualified for the 1980 Olympic Trials in the steeplechase with a time of 8:42, though he later decided not to compete at the trials as the United States planned to boycott the Moscow Olympics. Running remains an integral part of his life; in 2010, he became just the 17th person to run a sub-three hour marathon in five different decades. It has also allowed him to give back to the community in Nepal where he taught in his time in the Peace Corps. The Goblin Gallop — a 5K that Pollock's running club, the Adirondack Runners, hosts each year — Pollock and his wife Linda '75 raised enough money for a new school building in Tuhure Pasal, Nepal, that's used by over 500 students. In addition to earning a degree in mathematics and All-America honors as the steeplechase in 1974, St. Lawrence is also the place where Pollock met Linda. "Obviously, that was the highlight of my college career," Pollock says smiling. Aside from his own running career, Pollock also found ways to stay in touch with the St. Lawrence cross country team through the team's first coach, Ronald C. Hoffmann '54. A chance meeting with John Newman '94, the Saints' current head cross-country coach, at the annual Utica Boilermaker 15K helped renew that connection in the mid-1990s. Newman, a student of the program's history, had recently graduated and taken on an assistant coaching role. "He saw my shirt and said 'Oh, St. Lawrence?' and put his hand out to shake mine," remembers Newman. "'My name's Lee Pollock,' he said. And I said, 'I know who you are, you're an All-American!' "Lee remains super engaged with our program and the events that we put on, whether it's our alumni races or team meets, he is always willing to come out and see the team," Newman continues. The lessons that Pollock took away from St. Lawrence shaped his life immensely, while he also left his mark on the school. He remembers a conversation he had with his son Ryan '05 a few months after Ryan followed his footsteps, joining the cross country team as a first-year. "He said 'Dad, did you know they have an award named after you up here?" Pollock laughs.