By MARINA WATERS
“Everybody deserves to get interviewed. Even the younger people because when I was a younger one, I had no idea how to be interviewed,” Daniel Boone High School senior runner Ben Varghese said just a month after signing to run at East Tennessee State University next year. “It’s a funny story, when I was at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, I won and it was the very first time I was interviewed in a big scene—and I froze up. They still have the video on a national running site everyone can see. Everyone made fun of me for that, but ever since, I’ve gotten much better at interviews over the time I’ve done it. And you know, it takes time to get better.”
Varghese has come a long way since his start as a young cross country and track runner with little to say. Today as an all-american, a national champion, a two-time state champion and now an ETSU Buccaneer, the Boone senior is ready to continue his success—and ETSU’s.
“We’re going to create a program at ETSU. We’re going to build that mens program. There are a lot of guys that want to become great. I think a lot of them are really ready to move forward with it,” Varghese said. “I’m savoring these last few meets with my coach Rachel and Len Jeffers, but I’m also so ready to go into summer and train for cross country. I’m always excited just to run. Shoot, it’s better than staying inside and playing your Xbox 360 and playing Call of Duty.”
Ben said that it took a bit of trial and error before he realized running was his passion. But once he did, he put his feet to the pavement and hasn’t looked back since.
“Can you believe I did football? Yeah, I was pretty bad. It was good I was doing something,” Varghese said, thinking back on his athletic career. “I was kind of a trouble maker. Then I started doing track and I don’t know what it was, but it kind of calmed me down.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t really take it super seriously. I just flew through, but Coach Ray Jones came up to me after my last race of that cross country season. I was one of the worst people on my JV team and he told me, ‘You have potential. But I need you to buy into what I’m giving you.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’”
But before he started winning races and even before a young Varghese decided to take his sisters advice and try cross country, the runner had an obstacle to overcome; He was run over by a lawn mower as a kid and was rushed to the hospital after his tibula and fibula were basically destroyed.
“Thankfully, the doctor fixed my leg but I do have range issues,” Varghese said. “I can bend my left leg but I can’t bend that one all the way up. I can wiggle my toes on the left and I can’t wiggle it on the right. There are weird things like that, but I’ve adjusted to that. My coaches have learned that if my ankle starts to bother me on a run to just slow me down. So I’ve learned to work with that.”
That never stopped Varghese who won the state title in the boys 3200 meter race for the second year in a row and also won the New Balance Indoor National race in New York. Now the senior runner has high hopes for the future; the word “olympics” might come up in conversation with Varghese as it did during the runner’s interview with the Herald & Tribune just before this year’s state competition. But for now, Varghese is just looking forward to enjoying the run.
“Whatever I do at state, I’m going to run to my best ability. I never go into state—or any other race—thinking, ‘Oh, I deserve that metal.’ I have to go out there and I have to earn it just as much as anybody,” Varghese said. “If my legs are burning and they’re hurting in that race, I still have to run. I have to work my butt off. I’m going to go out there and work to my best ability and be confident that I know I can do my best.
“For now I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I’m going to have fun with whatever my coaches give me, whatever I run. I’m going to be as fast as I can in all the other events. When I’m older, then we’ll see. But for now, I’m enjoying some of the shorter distances.”
Now that he’s gearing up to head to Johnson City to run for the Bucaneers, Varghese said he’s considering majoring in biology and possibly combining that with the physical obstacles he’s had to overcome in order to help others.
“I’m really interested in helping people that have been injured and helping them to get back to daily life because someone did that for me,” Varghese said. “I’d like to help out other people. But only time will tell, but I do want to do Biology.”
For Varghese, it hasn’t just been about the physical aspects of running; the Boone senior has also grown as a person and is ready to take those valuable life lessons with him to college.
“You can’t be a know it all at this. You can never be a know it all. If you overthink running then you’re not gonna be great. There’s no book you can read, “How to Run for Dummies” or something.” Varghese said. “You have to just be very patient with the sport. My coaches have taught me a lot of patience. I’ve been patient throughout these four years and I’ve seen it all come together. That’s because I’ve bought into what they’ve given me and I’ve used that to the best of my ability.
“I hope to the Lord that I don’t forget any of that when I’m in college because I have just as much of an aspiration to become just as good of a runner as I did in high school—and even better in college.”