By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
NEW YORK (18-Feb) -- As Will Leer travels to Albuquerque this week for the 2014 USA Track & Field Indoor National Championships, memories will come flooding back to the 28-year-old. Nearly one year ago, Leer had a weekend to remember at the Albuquerque Convention Center, claiming two national titles in front of the most important people in his life: his parents.
On day-one of last year's championships, Leer dominated the 3000 meters in Albuquerque's thin air. Celebrating as he came down the homestretch, Leer stroked his signature Steve Prefontaine-style mustache and blew a kiss into the crowd before breaking the tape in 8:07.84, beating second place Ben Bruce by nearly nine seconds.
The following day, Leer returned to the track and executed a memorable comeback in the mile. Roughly 15 meters behind the leaders at halfway, Leer slowly began to close the gap as the crowd's cheers grew. The race's final 250 meters would be a blur, as the Pomona College graduate passed four athletes and made his claim for the win. Driving into lane four, Leer came up on Craig Miller's right shoulder, ultimately passing the Wisconsin alum meters from the finish.
As soon as he crossed the line first in 3:58.79, Leer's eyes turned to the crowd. Standing in the bleachers were Mary and Chuck Leer, Will's mother and father. Television cameras caught both Mr. and Mrs. Leer overcome with emotion, embracing each other in awe of their son's accomplishment.
While winning two national titles in the span of 24 hours was special, it was made all the more meaningful with Mary and Chuck in the stands. In May of 2012, Chuck had been diagnosed with cancer. Will's victory served as a something the family could rally around and celebrate together.
"I can’t say enough about my family. My mom, my dad. They are there for me every step of the way," he told reporters shortly after his win.
This weekend, Leer will try to earn another national title, and possibly two. According to USATF.org, Leer has declared for both the 3000m (Saturday) and 1500m (Sunday). The top-2 finishers in each event will qualify for the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, March 7 - 9.
"Last year was fun, but this year is going to make last year real. Last year was kind of a fairy tale," Leer told Race Results Weekly while riding a New York City subway train after last Saturday's NYRR Millrose Games. "I'm in better shape than I was last year and I'm looking forward to going back and repeating in at least one event."
Just like his mile victory in Albuquerque last year, Leer stunned the capacity crowd and came from behind to win the NYRR Wanamaker Mile at the NYRR Millrose Games on last Saturday. Losing track of how many laps remained, Leer turned on the jets as he heard the bell ring signaling one lap to go.
By the top of the homestretch he had caught early leaders Nick Willis and Lawi Lalang. Motoring past them on the outside, Leer broke the tape in 3:52.47, celebrating by raising his hands in the shape of pistols, firing the guns and blowing out the smoke. His time was a new personal best and world leader. He smoked the final 200-meter lap in 26.92 seconds.
"I kind of lost track of laps. You couldn't hear a split because it was so loud in here," he explained. "I was going by Nate [Brannen], going by Leo [Manzano], coming up on Craig Miller and I hear ding ding ding. I'm like, 'Oh Crap! I got to go! I got a lot left.'"
He continued: "To be able to pull out a win here is absolutely enormous and gives me a great amount of confidence going into next weekend."
Winning in New York City was just part of the plan that Leer hopes will take him for his second appearance at the IAAF World Indoor Championships (he competed in the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha and finished fourth in his prelim).
"To be honest, all eyes are on next weekend and these are all just stepping stones. The 3000m last weekend (in Boston, where he finished eighth in a personal best of 7:42.95), the mile this weekend. I worked on my speed for the first time this year last Monday," said Leer, a smile growing under his thick beard. "I'm super pumped to come away with the win and feel so good coming through in that race."
Certainly, when Leer steps on the track in Albuquerque, he'll have the memories of a year ago spurring him on. That, plus his great form, could be the winning combination.
"It was bittersweet. Last year was rough for not only myself but my family emotionally. It definitely helps with the positive over the negatives in that situation. I'm just going to try and remember when I get there what it felt like to win and harness the positive mojo," he said.
PHOTO: Will Leer (l) poses with 2008 Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis after winning the 2014 Wanamaker Mile at the NYRR Millrose Games. Both athletes are coached by Ron Warhurst (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly).