Aside from the Olympics, every sport has a definitive championship to determine who the clear-cut winner is. For soccer, it is the World Cup. For football, the Super Bowl. And for the world of track and field, the pinnacle of racing season is the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships.
The 2019 IAAF World Championships, hosted in Doha, Qatar, served as the international debut of the Division III track and field star Luke Campbell in the 400-meter high hurdles. Representing Germany, Campbell raced a 49.14-second personal best in the 400-meter hurdles and recorded a 50.00-second time in the 400-meter hurdles at the world championship. Although pitted in the second lane, an unlucky lane in the sprinter and hurdler community, Campbell progressed to the semifinals.
Despite not reaching his expectations for the event, Campbell said that going to an event with high-level athletes from around the world and reaching the semifinals was a special moment in his career.
"Making it to the semifinals was a big thing for me. It was one of my goals for the season and I was able to do that, but time-wise, I felt I had a lot more to give," Campbell said.
But while getting to Worlds and competing with some of the most talented runners from around the world is a significant accomplishment, Campbell’s collegiate success is what molded and laid the stepping stones to professionalism.
Campbell tallied a Division III-record 11 career national championships in his career as a Sea Gull. These victories came in the 60-meter hurdles, 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles and the 4x400-meter relay.
Jarrell Young, a college teammate and close friend of Campbell, says Campbell came to Salisbury as a kid with talent, but then took his abilities to another level.
Young said he was able to witness the growth and development of Campbell as a sprinter, hurdler and teammate.
“He just kinda took off in college,” Young said. “His off-season training was crazy … I had the opportunity to live with him throughout the summer, and this man ... we were running every single day, he was lifting ... eating right, eating healthy, watching the amount of calorie intake he was eating.”
Young spoke highly of Campbell’s abilities as a leader of his teammates on Salisbury’s track and field team.
In addition to helping incoming freshmen adapt to the college environment, Young said Campbell helped to keep the athletes on Salisbury’s track and field team focused and ready for each new challenge.
“He was a very good captain,” Young stated. “He’s not afraid to call somebody out if they’re not doing what they need to do … He was very stern, but again, a fun captain.”
In his freshman season, Campbell received numerous honors for his strong performances. Most notably, he was named a U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association All-American in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
This early success led himself and many others, including Young, to realize that Campbell had a real opportunity at running professionally.
Young said that Campbell’s early notoriety caught many of his teammates off guard, and they were shocked by the things he was able to accomplish.
“Once he became known on a national scene, he’s like, ‘Man, this could go somewhere,’” Young said. “We were all telling him, ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you going D1? You beat D1 people.’”
Maura Burke, former assistant track coach, was able to see the later part of Campbell’s running career at Salisbury University.
She also was a witness to Campbell’s rise as an elite athlete though hard work and dedication.
“I was on staff for the later part of Luke’s collegiate career, but I knew of him before that as a standout athlete,” Burke said. “Luke had a fantastic career over the course of four years. He was incredibly consistent and improved each year … He became a more confident athlete as he grew, but remained extremely humble.”
Burke was not shy about Campbell’s professional and dedicated conduct, which ran down to the rest of the team.
Burke said that Campbell also continuously went above and beyond, which is one of the reasons he has reached professional heights.
“Luke arrived ready for practice every day, did whatever was asked of him and then said ‘What’s next?’” Burke said. “He’s one of those few athletes you actually have to hold back because they just want to work … The other sprinters on the team looked up to him because of his work ethic. He led by example.”
But college success is not the final step for athletes like Campbell. Staying in peak condition without the push from coaches or teammates after graduating can prove difficult while also trying to juggle jobs and the grind of post-college life.
Burke said that Campbell faced these challenges head-on and continued to work at a high level, leading to his success.
“It will make or break you, but he kept his goals in mind,” Burke said. “Luke would be out at the track in the snow, rain or heat wave. Nothing was standing in his way of training … He had no excuses; he just went out there and got it done.”
Jim Jones, coach of the Salisbury cross country and track and field teams for the past 20 years, recruited Campbell to SU.
Jones described how he saw Campbell grow as a person, teammate and world-class athlete.
“Coming in, Campbell was not fully developed as an athlete,” Jones said. “But the main thing is that I saw was somebody with good talent that could grow and develop with some good training into a very good athlete.”
Jones described Campbell as a teammate that not only wanted success for himself, but also wanted success for others and was willing to make many sacrifices for the team.
This was seen when Campbell ran four events to help the Salisbury track team finish fourth at Division III nationals his senior year. These events included the 110-meter high hurdles, 400-meter hurdles, 4x100 meter and 4x400 meter relays.
Jones was pleased that Campbell made it to the track and field world championships and was also impressed that Campbell made it to the semifinal round in a very competitive event.
After turning in a strong performance in the world championships in Doha this year, Campbell will have his eyes set on a bigger stage: the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
"At this point, most importantly, it's just to rest and give my body the time it needs because it's definitely been a long season," Campbell said. "From there, it's all about the preparation and looking to have a qualifying spot for Tokyo."
By JILLIAN SWAIM, COREY YOUNG & NICK LEWIS
Layout editor, staff writer & sports editor
Featured photo: Sports Information image.