The pack of 800-meter runners spread three lanes wide down the home stretch at the NAIA National Track and Field Championships in May, and less than a second separated fourth through eighth place.
"I was thinking, ‘You have a chance to win.' It was a matter of who sprinted a little faster," John Darmody '12 remembered of his final collegiate race.
A seventh-place finish initially brought disappointment for the St. Ambrose University standout. Later, the greatest distance runner in SAU history forgot about that unsuccessful sprint, and viewed his historic career from a distance.
"Talking to the coaches and to my dad, they were very reassuring, putting the entire season and my entire career into perspective," Darmody said. "I don't think I could have even imagined everything I've done five years ago when I was a freshman."
That "everything" amounts to a remarkable lot. Paired with an eighth-place finish in the 1500 meters earlier in the May meet, the seventh-place run in the 800 made Darmody the only seven-time All-American in St. Ambrose history. Only six SAU athletes have been three-time All-Americans.
Darmody, who earned his undergraduate degree in 2012 and took graduate classes this past school year, left St. Ambrose for law school at Indiana University in June holding 11 St. Ambrose records in indoor and outdoor track and cross country.
Darmody spent his final season in the spotlight. He won Midwest Collegiate Conference Athlete of the Year honors in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track-a triple-crown feat never before accomplished in the MCC.
He represents the new bar for St. Ambrose athletes, said Dan Tomlin '05, '10 MBA, men's and women's head track coach. "When you look at the history of St. Ambrose athletics, it starts with John Darmody," Tomlin said.
Darmody said lessons he learned in cross country and track reflect the values of the university, something exemplified by the March selection of the men's indoor team for the NAIA Champions of Character team award, a school first.
"I definitely don't think I would be the athlete I am if I hadn't come here," Darmody said. "The things that the coaches expected of me are the same things the teachers expect.
"A lot of it is not taking any opportunity you have for granted. Coach Tomlin talks about that a lot. You can look at going to class or going to practice or competing as something you have to do or something you get to do."