Cut from South Kitsap soccer, alum Drew Polley now preps for Boston Marathon

Sometimes disappointments turn into blessings.

Consider the case of 2004 South Kitsap High School graduate Drew Polley. He grew up playing soccer and aspired to be a defender for the Wolves when he tried out as a sophomore.

Had Polley not been cut from the team, he likely would not be competing in the 114th Boston Marathon.

He still marvels that he will run Monday in a race that spans 26 miles, 385 yards. After being persuaded to turn out by Ed Santos, who then was the track and field coach at South, Polley said he initially refused to run more than 800 meters.

“I’m glad Ed got me to discover my love for running,” he said.

While he was not a standout distance runner for the Wolves — he finished 39th at state as a senior in 2003 — Polley joined his more accomplished teammate C.J. Godfrey at Washington State University as a walk-on in cross country and track.

Rick Sloan, who has coached track and field at WSU since 1995 after being an assistant for 21 years, was effusive in his praise of Polley.

“Drew works harder and races harder than anyone I’ve ever had at Washington State,” he said last May.

But Polley’s run to the Boston Marathon remained little more than a dream until late last year. That is when he placed first among all Americans in the Nov. 15 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Antonio, running the 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 20:59 minutes.

Despite it being his inaugural marathon, Polley just missed the 2:19 required to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Others took notice.

Running in the marathon was a member of the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, a group based in Rochester Hills, Mich., that aims to develop young American runners. Polley said brothers Keith and Kevin Hanson started the project in 1999 when American distance runners began to lag behind other countries after being successful in the ’70s and ’80s.

In 2003, Seattle-based Brooks Running Shoes signed on as a partner. Brooks provides financial incentives for qualifying for major races, fast times and high places.

The Hanson brothers provide room and board and health care for its stable of a dozen runners, and also allow them to work as many as 25 hours per week at one of their four running-apparel stores in the Detroit area to earn extra money.

“The goal is to give post-collegiate guys a chance to train exclusively,” Polley said. “It’s hard to make a living in running.”

He is not certain how long it all will last. Polley said his contract runs for one year and can be renewed. For now, he is hoping earn a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials out of the Boston Marathon.

Even the decision to pursue the opportunity with Hanson-Brooks was not easy. Polley maintained a 3.7 grade-point average at WSU and earned a degree in civil engineering last spring.

Polley spent last two summers in WSU’s atmospheric research lab. He worked on atmospheric dispersion modeling, which is the mathematical simulation of how air pollutants disperse in the ambient atmosphere. He already had started working on his master’s degree with the goal of developing a model to forecast wind-blown dust concentrations for the Columbia Basin Region.

“I was pretty sorry to leave that because it was going well and I was excited about it,” Polley said.

But he said his professors were understanding, and he felt it was an opportunity he could not refuse.

“I jumped at the chance to go out there,” Polley said. “It meant taking a break from grad school, but I felt if I passed up this opportunity, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Polley has been running around 130 miles a week in preparation for the Boston Marathon. He said that is not much different from his workouts during the fall in Pullman, but running 18 to 20 miles per day in addition to his class load often meant getting up before 5 a.m.

“I was getting hurt and rundown,” he said.

Instead, he now can sleep through the night and take a nap during the day if he chooses as he pursues his goal of competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“I pretty much eat, sleep and breathe running,” Polley said. “It’s a pretty good situation for me.”

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