By Pat McGlynn, GoDuke the Magazine
It’s not too often that a team gets to add a member with experience in both the Olympics and World Championship races. But that’s exactly what the Duke track and field team was able to do as Steven Solomon decided to spend his final year of collegiate eligibility studying at Duke as well as donning the Blue Devil singlet.
Solomon, a native of Sydney, Australia, is one of the most internationally accomplished runners to ever compete for the Duke track and field team. He represented his native country at the 2012 Olympics in London, reaching the 400 meter finals where he ran a personal-best 44.97 as well as being a five-time Australian champion in the event. He added a national championship in the distance medley relay while running as an undergraduate at Stanford. However, injuries limited his performances as a Cardinal.
“Unfortunately, I spent the large majority of my freshmen year injured with a back injury, and then in the summer of my sophomore year I ruptured my hamstring which required surgery,” said Solomon. “So then the whole of my junior year was spent rehabbing that. Then I decided to preserve my eligibility in my senior year. Although my career wasn’t as hot as I would have liked it, that’s why I’m still competing in the NCAA, because I think I still have a lot to give.”
With the extra eligibility, it allowed Solomon to continue his education as well as training to reach his athletic goals. His recruitment as a graduate student was a little different than when he initially decided to go to Stanford.
“It’s definitely an unorthodox story in the sense of, I had a very good friend who does undergrad here, and we were speaking over the phone one day and I let him know that I was contemplating doing a graduate degree and looking into different programs,” commented Solomon. “He was the one who actually said Fuqua, the business school at Duke, has a master’s degree that would really interest you. I went and looked into that option. Obviously wanting to continue running was another factor. I made accordance with the coaches and was really happy. My coach here, Mark Mueller, was a Stanford boy as well, so we could bond over that a lot. Really, once I looked through the decision a little more, it became clear that this is what I wanted to do so I went through the application process and a couple of months later I ended up on campus.”
With only a year left to compete at the NCAA level, Solomon hopes to make the most out of his time here at Duke. Luckily, the injuries that plagued him at Stanford are a thing of the past.
“I’m coming off two and a half years of injury free training which is a tremendous base. It may sound trivial, but two and a half years injury free as a track runner is a good run,” Solomon said. “I’m coming off a great base, I’m feeling a lot of positive energy. I’m really enjoying my time here at Duke so far so I think all those reasons will eventuate into a very successful season.”
Solomon will be an integral part of the Duke team this coming season. Although the 400 meter is his bread and butter, Solomon expects to run in some longer events as well as relays during the indoor season. Along with helping score on the track, Solomon will also be an important mentor for many of his younger teammates.
“One of my biggest goals is to help the team as much as I can. I realize and take great pride in being able to mentor people across different experiences,” Solomon said. “I’m a little older than a lot of the guys and I’ve been through a lot of different experiences. One of my big goals is to really latch onto the culture of the track program here at Duke and do my part to help out as much as I can, hopefully inspire some performances, both during the training time and when we come to compete. I realize that I only have one year here so the best impact that I can have is to instill a cultural change, not that the program needs change, but to bring the experiences that I’ve had and really fuel it for many years to come.”
Fuqua’s MMS program is a stark departure from Solomon’s undergraduate career at Stanford. Solomon came into Stanford hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps and start a career in surgery. He majored in human biology and was on the pre-med track in order to accomplish this. A few classes near the end of his time in California piqued his interest in business, though, and he’s continued to cultivate that interest in Durham.
“It wasn’t until the last year that I kind of got to lift my head above water and explore interests that were fresh to me,” said Solomon. “The pre-med route is a hard route in the sense that you have to pick it from the start and you really have a lot of classes prescribed for you. When I put my head up and started sniffing around some other courses, this knack for business gave me a lot of energy and it gave me a lot of excitement. That was partly the draw of coming and doing a business degree, to nourish that energy I had at the time and still do for business. Where I want to go with this, is still very much being involved in health care. I’m still now making the decision whether that’s going to be the position as a doctor or maybe from a provider standpoint, or organizational management standpoint.”
As the start of indoor season looms, Solomon is enjoying his time in Durham, however short it may be.
“Because of my success prior to arriving at Duke, it was the case where some people were maybe afraid I’d be doing my own thing and maybe I wouldn’t truly be a part of the team, but I’ve tried hard to knock that sentiment out of the water and really be close with the team, engage with the team, and from all the feedback I’ve had, it’s really working,” said Solomon.
Solomon and his new Blue Devil teammates kick off the indoor season on Friday, January 13 when they travel down the road to Chapel Hill for the Carolina Cup.