By Victor Skinner
Local Sports Journal

HESPERIA – In late July Damien Halverson was starting to prepare for a big senior season in cross country.

He had every reason to be excited.


Damien Halverson

The Hesperia runner had been an All-Stater in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Last fall he set a new school record in the 5K with a time of 15:56, a remarkable pace for a high school junior.

Halverson also finished in second place individually at the state regional meet, and took 18th overall at the state finals.

But just as he got serious about preparing for the 2014 season, he was hit with a strange virus that left him on his back – and away from running – for several weeks.

He was back with the Hesperia cross country team by the time the season started, but he wasn’t really himself.

“They finally gave me an antibiotic for it and that worked,” said Halverson, who is also an All-State runner for the Hesperia track team in the spring. “I spent two weeks not running, then a week of trying to get back into it, but the first four or five weeks of the season I was not running real well.”

The funk from the virus finally passed, and Halverson has returned to his old form, just in time for the most important part of the cross country season.

He proved that by posting his best time last weekend at the Allendale Invitational, where he once again set a new school record with a time of 15:51.

Now he’s focused on doing even better as the season enters its final month. His big push begins next Saturday at the Portage Invitational, which includes some of the best teams and runners in Division III in the state.

“Portage is one of the biggest invites in the state and a lot of the fastest guys go to it,” Halverson said. “It definitely helps knowing there’s that level of competition there.”

“I expect him to do well in Portage because that’s a big race, and he does well in big races,” said Hesperia Cross Country Coach Louise Troughton.

Beyond Portage are the all-important postseason meets, which begin in about three weeks.

Halverson’s biggest goal is to take first place overall at regionals, a feat that barely eluded him last season. He was in first place for most of the race, before being overtaken down the stretch by Kent City’s Will Wilson.

Halverson said that defeat has been a big motivator this year.

“In the last thousand he just left me behind,” Halverson said about last year’s regionals. “I really want to win a regional title, because my school has never had a guy do that, and I want to be the first. I thought it was going to be my day last year, but I guess I just got ahead of myself.”

Halverson said he has no illusions about winning the individual title in the state finals, which he will almost certainly qualify for.

“I’m about 30 seconds behind the best guys,” Halverson said. “A top five finish would be great.”

He thinks his entire team can qualify for state by finishing among the top three teams at regionals. The Panther boys are currently ranked fifth in the region.

“As far as a team goal, we want to win our conference and qualify for state, because last year we missed it by nine points or something,” Halverson said. “I really think we can make it this year. Everyone has been improving quite a bit.”

Considering his success, one might assume that Halverson has been a dedicated runner since he was small. But that’s not the case.

He only started running cross country in the seventh grade because a former coach convinced him to try it. And he didn’t start having success until the next year, when he realized he enjoyed the sport and started pushing himself to improve.

“I guess (the coach) just saw some potential in me, and he kept pushing and trying to get me to run,” Halverson said. “So I just ended up running, and now I’m stuck with it.”

Halverson puts a lot of hard work into a sport he’s “stuck with.”

“You got to have the mindset that you want to be better than everyone else you are racing,” he said.

“He works extremely hard,” Troughton said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s running right next to someone or if he’s out there by himself, he always gives it his all.”

Troughton said the focus and dedication that made Halverson a great runner is obvious in other aspects of his life, as well.

“I know he has a very high GPA … he’s an excellent student,” she said.

College is definitely in Halverson’s plans – and he hopes it includes some sort of running scholarship.

“I’m kind of looking at Ferris State for the diesel mechanic program,” Halverson said. “They have a couple of guys (on the cross country team) that are doing really good right now.”