The Road to the Races: Greyson Dolezal’s climb to become a Cyclone

Junior Greyson Dolezal is competing in his first season of Division I cross country this upcoming season after injuries took over his running career.

Maggie Davis

No spotlights. No scholarships. An underdog story in a Nike commercial couldn’t have put it better.

Now in his second year on the men’s cross-country team, and what will be his third year on the men’s track team, junior Greyson Dolezal took an unorthodox road to making the Iowa State men’s cross-country and track teams. And for Dolezal, this road was not without its up and downs.

A 2015 graduate of Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Dolezal’s cross-country career began as a sophomore in high school, having played football his freshman year.

Already a mid-distance runner for Linn-Mar’s track team, Dolezal credits his older sisters with getting him into cross-country. A track background and siblings pushing him in that direction, he felt it only made sense to start running cross-country in the fall.

His opening season, running for Linn-Mar’s JV team, was a matter of figuring out the 5K. On the track, Dolezal ran 400 and 800-meter races, so the 3.1-mile distance was new to him, and he spent that fall getting adjusted.

The following spring of 2013 was Dolezal’s second year of high school track, and his first year as a member of the varsity squad. He attended the Drake Relays as an alternate, and was part of the 2013 State Championship team that brought home the first boys state track title in school history.

“That [winning the state title] kind of motivated me my junior year to get off that alternate spot and participate in those meets,” Dolezal said. 

Dolezal trained through the summer of 2013 and made the varsity team for his second season of cross-country. Some improvement came that junior season, but something was amiss.

“I ran all cross-country season with some pain in my foot, not really thinking much of it,” Dolezal said. 

As it turned out, Dolezal had not one, not two, but three stress fractures in his foot. All at the same time.

“I kind of just ignored the pain, I mean, because it was my first varsity [cross-country] season,” Dolezal said.  

Stress fractures are common injuries among runners. As the name implies, repeated stress or impact over a period of time is generally the cause of these hairline cracks, often found in the tiny bones of the feet. After the cross-country season was over, Dolezal took 8-12 weeks off in order to recoup and let the fractures heal. Then it was time for track.

“I was still able to improve, but not a lot in track my junior year,” Dolezal said. 

His foot had healed before the start of the 2014 track season, but something was wrong. Again.

In hindsight, it’s clear to Dolezal what the problem was, but at the time, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t keep up with the same guys he had been running with previously.

After his junior track season, he continued to train through the summer preparing for his senior year, and final high school cross-country seasons. As the fall progressed, Dolezal didn’t feel right.

Even though he was training normally, he continued to feel out of shape. About halfway through the season, his Dad took to Google for a symptoms check. The results pointed to an iron deficiency.

Another fairly common ailment, among distance runners in particular, low levels of iron in the blood, or being “iron deficient”, can lead to increased fatigue in workouts and greatly hinder performance.

It wasn’t necessarily that Dolezal felt exhausted with everyday tasks, he just simply couldn’t keep up with the varsity guys anymore, and didn’t understand why he seemed so out of shape.

By the time the problem was uncovered and Dolezal began to get back on track by taking iron supplements, his senior season had come to a close.

“By the time he was ready to get back, it was a week too late for state,” said Kyle Hoffman, Dolezal’s former high school track and cross-country coach.

Hoffman, who has been coaching at Linn-Mar for 13 years, attested to Dolezal’s work ethic despite the obstacles he’d been forced to overcome.

After the 2014 cross-country season, Dolezal ran in a Nike Regional meet, and, his former coach explained, ran a really good time for having not been 100 percent most of the season.

“He was completely focused for track,” Hoffman said.

And focused he was. Dolezal dropped about six seconds from his 800-meter time, going from a 2:01 to a 1:55 his senior season of track. He became Linn-Mar’s main 800-meter runner, and lead their 4×800-meter relay that year.

That following summer was when Dolezal really decided he wanted to run as a Cyclone. So, with the help of Hoffman and friends who were collegiate runners, Dolezal trained through that summer after graduation.

His eyes were set on the marks Iowa State assistant men’s cross-country coach Jeremy Sudbury and he had discussed together earlier that summer.

“He wanted something, and so he’s gonna go do what he can to get it,” Hoffman said. 

He missed the mark by just a few seconds during his try out. That appeared to be that. He entered his freshman year at Iowa State, disappointed in not having made the team. This didn’t stop him from joining the running club at Iowa State.

“I have a vivid memory of the first time I met him [Dolezal],” said William Graham, the current president of the running club and a fifth year senior at Iowa State. “We were supposed to have a tough workout that day, and we asked Greyson if he wanted to run with us.

“He ran the entire workout with our top runners. We were like, who is this kid?”

The Iowa State running club offers an opportunity for casual runners, as well as those looking to continue to compete after high school. In the fall, they train and attend smaller meets at Division III schools.

In the spring, they do the same for track. Dolezal began competing for the club and raced for the club in the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association meet. He placed 11th overall, racing against more than 300 other runners from clubs around the U.S.

“He was quiet and he worked hard,”  said Robert Scanlon, former president of the running club. “He quickly became a big part of the club.”

“He came in and made an impact right away. Not just in how he ran, but as a teammate.” 

After that first fall with the running club, Dolezal said he finally began to be at peace with the fact that he hadn’t made the Division I team. He was still competing and running, and having fun.

At the end of February 2016, around the time of the Big 12 Indoor Championships for Track and Field, Dolezal was doing a workout with the running club in the Lied Recreation Athletic Center. Sudbury saw something that day and approached Dolezal.

“We have a lot of talented athletes that join our run club, and they’re indoors, so we see them all the time,” said Jeremy Sudbury, men’s cross-country assistant coach.

“The coach approached me, and I was with another guy. I thought he was coming to talk to him, and he started talking to me,” Dolezal said.

Sudbury offered Dolezal a walk-on spot for the upcoming outdoor track season. He competed in four meets for the Cyclones that spring, earning a best-finish of fourth place at the Tulsa Duels meet in the 1500-meter run.

“He improved quite a bit,” Sudbury said. “He’s a nice guy to have as part of our program.”

However, Dolezal wasn’t in the clear just yet. An ankle sprain that following summer took him out of competition for the cross-country season. Similar to his high school career, Dolezal bounced back for track, and competed in four indoor track meets and four outdoor meets in the 2016-17 season.

Now, healthy at last for cross-country, this 2017 season will be Dolezal’s first competitive cross-country season as a Cyclone.

“I’m nervous and excited,” Dolezal said. “I’m excited to see where it goes and what we [as a team] can do. It’s [going to] be an exciting year.”