Varghese getting ready for national championships

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 14, 2018 at 3:57 PM

Ben Varghese is running for more than a personal goal this weekend, although the reason he's racing for East Tennessee State in the first place comes down to personal care.

The ETSU sophomore hopes to inspire those he's met and those he doesn't even know at this Saturday's NCAA Cross Country National Championships at Madison, Wisconsin.

As a 4-year-old, Varghese's foot got caught under his father's lawn mower and he lost 75 percent of his ankle. Airlifted to Johnson City Medical Center, he faced the possibility of the doctors being forced to amputate his ankle.

Luckily, they were able to save his ankle and he learned to walk and eventually run competitively. He became a multi-time state champion as a high school athlete, first as a member of Daniel Boone's 2014 state championship cross country team and as a back-to-back state track champion in the 3,200 meters in 2016-17.

However, his message isn't just for those facing a traumatic injury. The message is for anyone in life facing a situation that might seem overwhelming.

"To any human being, athlete or not, whatever struggle you're going through, keep on pushing on and keep your head up. Even in your darkest day, better days are upon us," Varghese said. "We have to have the bad days to enjoy the great days. There are people who struggle with so much — mentally, emotionally — and I want those people to know there are better days ahead."

The days have been good for Varghese recently. He ran 31:20 over 10 kilometers to finish fifth at the South Regional in Tallahassee, Florida, which qualified him for the national championships. It came just weeks after Varghese ran 24:14 in an 8K race to finish second at the Southern Conference championships.

Varghese dropped over nine seconds off his time from the previous year's regionals, improving his standing in the overall standings by 15 positions. It came after Varghese had another setback when the outdoor track season ended.

"I'm very thankful. I came off the track season with an injury, which mentally drained me," Varghese said. "I just had to set goals in my mind and be patient."

Other adjustments as a college athlete have required more focus on time management. Varghese is majoring in exercise science and he's intrigued by the medical aspect of his studies with both his mother and sister serving the community as nurses.

Varghese faces another challenge Saturday. Going to the nationals as an individual, not having teammates to pack with equates to a different mindset.

"You have to make those adjustments," Varghese said. "I have a great team, but I have to go through this national event alone and I have stay focused knowing I've got to race for me. It's different because in high school, I always ran with the pack and this is a different feeling."

What remains the same as his high school days is a strong relationship with his coaches. Varghese said that Watts was one of only three college coaches during his recruitment process that reminded him of high school coaches Len Jeffers and Ray Jones.

Varghese knew ETSU was the right choice when he faced another time of adversity, collapsing at the state cross country championships his senior season.

"Whenever I fell at state, Coach Watts was one of the first people to talk to me," Varghese said. "He didn't care why I fell at state. He was more like, 'Is the kid Ok?' That's something you have to look for in a coach — if they care about you, not just as an athlete, but as a human being. He reminded me of Ray and Coach Jeffers, and that stood out about Coach Watts."

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