The Long Run: Crosby Freeman '06 and Will Leer '07 Broke Records and Froged a Friendship
Photos of Sagehen legends line the halls of the Rains Center, staring in sepia tones onto corridors bustling with athletes making their way to the locker rooms. Beginning with the 1893 men’s track team, the display carefully traces the long legacy of Sagehen athletics, continuing on with color pictures posted at semester’s end.
Turn a corner and two images, stapled next to each other and labeled “recent headlines,” tell the latest story of Pomona-Pitzer sports glory. Crosby Freeman ’06 and Will Leer ’07 have already joined the pantheon of Sagehen greats.
Leer and Freeman both have broken school records—Leer in the 800 meters and Freeman in the 10,000 meters—and are on a short list of Sagehen All-American cross-country athletes. Their bond as teammates and friends also make them unique among Sagehen record-holders, often spaced years apart.
“It’s been kind of a special time and we’ve been able to go to nationals as a team because of those guys,” said Coach Patrick Mulcahy ’66, who has coached the Pomona-Pitzer cross-country team since 1969. “They will go down as the best pair of distance runners in the history of the school.”
Leer and Freeman first met during Leer’s visit as a “prospie” (prospective student), and the two runners developed a friendship that has since propelled their cross-country careers.
Coming from his home in Minnetonka, Minn., Leer arrived in Claremont five years ago looking for a college that fit him. It is customary for incoming recruits to meet with Coach Mulcahy and the rest of the cross-country team before making any final decisions. Leer, then a high school senior and star athlete in his own right, liked the atmosphere of the Pomona campus, with its dual emphasis on academics and athletics, but was not immediately sure if he belonged among Sagehen ranks.
Then came Crosby.
Freeman was already an established Pomona-Pitzer cross-country star when Leer arrived. In his first season, he was the No.2 freshman finisher at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships and only one of three All-American cross-country athletes in Sagehen history. The “big man on campus” in the eyes of the prospective student, Freeman took Leer under his wing, showing him the ins and outs of Pomona campus life.
“His outlook towards college in general and running were so in line with what my hopes were for coming to college,” Leer recalled of his first meeting with Freeman. “I knew that this was a great place—the kind of place for me.”
After spending a weekend with Freeman and the cross-country team, Leer had made his decision.
Following his visit, the two communicated frequently during the spring semester of Leer’s senior year in high school. After Leer enrolled in the fall of 2003, the pair quickly became training partners – through grueling, 16-mile training runs – in a sport characterized by individual motivation, and began to hang out outside of practices. During the 2005-2006 season, the pair moved into a Lawry Court suite, together with two other teammates.
“I was the No. 1 guy in my freshman year, and here comes Will Leer who is really solid,” Freeman said. “We worked together at practice, and spending so much time together, we developed a friendship.”
Friendships off the field easily translated to strengthened team camaraderie during practices and competition. During the 2004 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Cross Country Championships, Freeman found himself in the lead, poised for the win. Leer hung back, surveying the field and setting a slower pace for the chase pack in an attempt to help his teammate steadily increase his lead. With less than a half mile remaining in the race, Freeman, a long-distance specialist, had secured the win. With Leer’s help, Freeman went on to claim his first individual SCIAC title.
As Leer developed as a cross-country athlete, however, friendly competition began to develop. A track athlete for the majority of his career, Leer’s extensive cross-country training quickly allowed him to give Freeman a run for his money.
The UC Riverside Invitational in October 2005, left Freeman, then a senior, with his first ever loss to a fellow teammate. Running alongside Leer in the lead pack for the majority of the race, Freeman asserted himself and began to push the pace over the final two kilometers. In the last half mile, however, Freeman’s lead dwindled allowing an anxious Leer to kick past. Crossing the finish line, a disappointed Freeman placed fourth, just two seconds behind Leer in third.
“Will is just a really motivated guy,” Freeman said. “He has this way of transferring that intensity to the people around him, and they are motivated by him.”
Following Freeman’s first loss to a Sagehen, the pair began to train even harder, intent on winning any and all upcoming events. Rather than dividing the two friends and training partners, the competition propelled Leer and Freeman into the Pomona record books as the runners went on to win a combined total of 6 All-American honors over the course of the 2006 season.
“Last fall was probably the best series of workouts that I have ever had,” Leer said. “We made each other both really strong.”
With Freeman now graduated and Leer about to, the two teammates have maintained their friendship. During Leer’s senior year at Pomona, Freeman often visited Claremont to spend time with Leer and keep updated on the goings on of the team. Leer also made frequent trips to the San Francisco where Freeman now works as an AdWords Coordinator for Google Inc.
Both have plans to continue running at the post-collegiate level. In February, Freeman finished first in the San Francisco Half-marathon, defeating more than 9,000 competitors from across the country. A current member of the Aggies Running Club, a Northern California based long distance running organization, Freeman also intends to enter November’s Olympic Trials for the marathon -- held in New York City -- with hopes of competing in the 2008 games in Beijing. Leer has Olympic aspirations of his own, hoping to compete at the Olympic Trials for track and field in Eugene, OR in June 2008.
“If either of us were to make the team we would be ecstatic for that person,” Leer said. “If we made it together, it would be the time of our lives.”