In The Locker Room with Walter Moak, Oberlin Cross Country’s National Championship Runner


Photo courtesy of Oberlin Athletics

Walter Moak at the NCAA Division III National Championships.

Walter Moak is a second year on the cross country and track and field teams. Most recently, he competed at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships under an at-large bid, the first Oberlin men’s team athlete to run in this event since 2015. Moak ran the 8-kilometer in freezing Michigan weather, placing within the top 100 for his year division and 254th overall.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on receiving an at-large bid to compete at the DIII National Championships. What were your first thoughts when you received your invitation?

Going into the regional meet, I didn’t know that was a possibility at all. I knew there was an outside chance of us qualifying as a team, but I didn’t think anyone on the team would really have a shot at the individual bid. Immediately after the regional race, Head Track and Field and Cross Country Coach Ray Appenheimer came up to me and said, “If Calvin University gets a bid, then you would be the seventh individual to qualify.” That was thrilling. I knew I’d had a great race.

The conditions were pretty rough in Michigan. How did you keep your body warm in the lead-up to the race, and how did you deal with the snow and ice?

Yeah, the conditions were pretty crazy. There were three inches of snow on the ground, and temperatures were in the 20s. I’m from Virginia, so we don’t really get that much snow — certainly not during the cross country season. Typically those temperatures and conditions are only during the indoor track season. That was definitely my first time racing in that amount of snow and cold. One of the tactics we employed to keep me warm was to use olive oil to cover my skin just before the race — it works as a layer of blubber, and it’s nice because it keeps you a bit warm but doesn’t restrict motion. The team also had these old swim jackets, which I’d never really seen before. Somehow the coaches managed to get their hands on a couple of those, so I was wearing one right before the race as well.

When did you begin running competitively?

I started running a little later than most people who run in college – in the fall of my junior year. My high school team was very good, so I was surrounded by some very talented and dedicated runners. Some of my teammates were winning individual state championships, and our varsity team in my junior year even qualified for the Nike National Championships. I wasn’t on that team, but it was amazing to see what could be accomplished with some dedication.

It takes a team to get you to the top. Who has helped you the most this season and in your career?

I think one thing that is special about our team here is that we have a lot of depth. I ran virtually all my workouts with other people, and at the beginning of the regional race, we tried to form a pack and run together as long as we could. For the first mile and a half of that race, I was right next to fourth-year Ross D’Orfani, and second-year Jonah Barber, and even when I pulled away later, I knew they were working hard. Nationals were different, of course, because I was the only person racing, but we still had a really big group of people — probably about 15 of my teammates from both the men’s and women’s teams — come up to watch and cheer.

Qualifying for Nationals is an amazing accomplishment. What are your goals for the indoor and outdoor track season?

One of my big goals for the indoor track season is to take down the school record in the mile. I’m currently five seconds off, and while five seconds is more of a gap in the mile than in the 8K, I think I can definitely cover that. I think there are other people on this team who can break that record too. We’re going to have a really strong mile group this year. As for outdoor track, I’m really excited to return to the steeplechase. That’s an event that I never did in high school and only ran twice last year, but I had a lot of success in it. I placed second in the conference meet, and I ran a really big personal record, so I’m excited to see what I can do with a little more preparation and experience.