Written by Katie Morford Tuesday, 29 May 2012 15:09
The second-ranked hurdler in the nation has faced his share of obstacles, but in track as in life, Dominick Eastman has embraced the challenges and taken them in stride.
Eastman, a Tabor College junior who was ranked No. 2 in the NAIA, did not finish his semifinals race in the 110-meter hurdles at the national meet last week.
He did set a new meet record at the KCAC meet a few weeks ago and has dominated the conference competition this outdoor track season.
But, ironically, a man who has excelled in athletics relocated from his home state of California partly because of an area that has often proved his stumbling block—academics.
A new beginning
“I came to Tabor because I didn’t really have that many options,” Eastman said. “My grades weren’t good enough for an NCAA school.”
But Tabor track coach David Kroeker saw something in Eastman that caught his interest and pursued the relationship, talking with Eastman once or twice a week.
“We developed a good relationship over the phone before I even came to Tabor,” Eastman said. “We didn’t just talk about track, we talked about life.
“The other coaches I talked to, it seemed like they just wanted to fill their rosters up; they didn’t want to be intimate with their athletes, they just wanted to fill a quota.”
So Eastman decided to take the leap. But first he had to bring his grades up to make the transfer.
“He had to work very hard to meet the academic requirements for Tabor and for the NAIA,” Kroeker said, “and he accomplished that.”
Eastman credits his teammates and the atmosphere at Tabor for pushing him to work as hard in his academics as he does on the track.
“Coming to Tabor, it’s kind of a motivation because the academics here are pretty good,” he said. “My grades reflect my attitude, and I know I need to change that. So I try to use my teammates for motivation, and Tabor’s expectations for grades are important.
“I just need to try harder.”
Finding his stride
If academics has been a thorn in Eastman’s side for many years, athletics has been the proverbial rose.
“I did (sports) because I didn’t like school, and I needed something to motivate me to stay in school,” Eastman said. “They don’t let you do sports unless you have a 2.0. So I did four sports to keep me in school all year round.”
Eastman came to Tabor after competing in track one year unattached and the two years previous at a junior college, American River in Sacramento.
He was no stranger to competition, though, having participated in nearly every sport in high school, including track his final two years.
Even in track he said he’s “done it all,” including high jump, long jump, triple jump, relays and even the decathlon.
But Eastman hadn’t tried hurdling until competing at American River College.
“I found that my dad had hurdled in college and held records at his junior college,” Eastman said. “So I decided I should try out high hurdles, since that’s what my dad did and I guess it’s in my blood.”
Eastman said he was “OK” at hurdling at first and has slowly improved. But in his second year of hurdling he was already the No. 2 runner in northern California.
“After that, I decided to primarily pursue hurdling, since it seemed like I was naturally good at it,” Eastman said, “and here I am, No. 2 in the nation.”
But despite his accomplishments, he still said he thinks of himself as a “lower-level” athlete compared to Division I?and world-class hurdlers.
“I know I’m OK at it, but I know I have a lot of progress to make,” Eastman said.
But then, the junior has set his sights high—specifically, on competing in the Olympics four years from now.
“I know most likely I’m not going to be the best in the world, but I’d like to try,” he said.
If and when Eastman does make it to the world stage, one gets the feeling his attitude will remain the same as the teenager playing sports to keep himself in school.
“Dominick expects to win every race he runs, and often does, but has demonstrated a real humility in all of that,” Kroeker said. “I believe that comes from his Christian faith and knowing that his abilities come from his Maker and Savior.”
Embracing a new role
As the old guy at 22 on a team with many underclassmen, Eastman said he has been thrust into a mentorship role very different from his previous experience.
“I came from being one of the slowest guys at my junior college to one of the fastest guys here,” he said. “So, in the workouts I’m the one leading, trying to motivate everyone else to run faster, whereas back home, I was the one following someone else.”
But the junior has shouldered the responsibility of setting the pace for his teammates and sharing what he has learned.
“I enjoy spreading the knowledge, because I?feel like if I?can motivate my team, then we’re going to do better as a team,” he said.
Kroeker said Eastman helps the team be better by just being who he is—someone who works hard, smiles a lot and encourages and interacts with many of his teammates on a daily basis.
“He has a positive attitude,” Kroeker said, describing Eastman’s work ethic as second-to-none. “He shows up every day for practice and he comes to work.”
Eastman said it’s his willingness to work hard that allows him to have such a positive relationship with his coach.
“He trusts my judgement,” Eastman said. “That means he doesn’t think I make excuses. He thinks I come out to do the work that he tells me to do. I don’t want to do anything else but run track. And he knows that.
“So it’s been good to know that he has that confidence in me.”
A winning attitude
It’s a confidence that doesn’t seem to be misplaced, judging by the inward drive that has propelled him to success.
“I just love competition,” Eastman said. “I enjoy thinking about what I can do to make myself better, There’s always something you can change to make yourself better.
“I enjoy the fact that I?have to think about what I’m doing, and that I can use my talents to do something I enjoy.”