By Chris Lotsbom, @chrislotsbom
(22-Nov) -- A mile and a half into last Saturday's NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, in Terre Haute, Ind., North Carolina State's Eli Moskowitz believed he was in great position. The sophomore from Amherst, N.H., had executed his plan of getting out hard and mixing it up towards the front half of the 250-man lead pack. Part of the No. 17-ranked Wolfpack, Moskowitz was slated to be the key fifth man and aimed at moving up over the 10 km course.
PHOTO: Eli Moskowitz of North Caroline State competing at the 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships after a bad fall (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)
Then, in the blink of an eye, things became a blur. On the ground, Moskowitz's face was full of blood, covering his mustache and staining his white singlet.
"The last thing I remember," Moskowitz began, speaking with Race Results Weekly over the phone in an exclusive interview, "is the guy in front of me bent over. I tried to jump over him and I think my foot caught on him."
Chances are you may have seen pictures of Moskowitz racing at NCAA's. It's been re-tweeted hundreds of times and was the basis of a LetsRun.com message board thread (since deleted). It's been described as the epitome of cross country, showing true grit and determination and the willingness to sacrifice body for team.
So, what exactly happened to Moskowitz during that second mile at NCAA's that caused him to bleed profusely? Moskowitz recounted the race in detail. Between two and three kilometers, his day took a turn for the worse, leaving him with a battered nose and concussion symptoms.
With no time to react to the fall ahead of him, Moskowitz's instinct was to jump. In the process, his foot got clipped by another runner, causing Moskowitz to face-plant into the frozen grass of the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course.
Stunned with his nose hurting, Moskowitz attempted to get back to his feet only to be kicked hard in the face again by a fellow competitor.
"That knocked my head back, and I just curled up in a ball waiting for everyone to go over me and get past before I got back up," he said. "After that it was a little of a blur, but I got back up and the pack was pretty far ahead. I tried to catch back up and was trying to test myself to see if I was fully conscious."
Dazed, confused, and gushing blood, Moskowitz briefly contemplated dropping out. The thought quickly left his mind.
"When I first got back up I was sort of assessing myself to see if I was going to pass out or something," Moskowitz said. "I wasn't sure how bad it was. At first I was definitely thinking about stopping, but then I saw some runners within my reach and said I might as well try to catch back up. If I pass out then someone will help me. That's the mindset in cross country anyway, push yourself to the point where you're not really sure you're going to make it all the way."
Thankfully, Moskowitz didn't suffer any spike puncture wounds on his head. He ran the final seven kilometers trying to chase runners down, ultimately finishing 243rd out of 251 in 32:55.9 (For context, Moskowitz ran 30:24.1 at Regionals a week prior). As more and more spectators recognized his injury and the blood running down his face and neck, support for the Wolfpack grew.
"I hate to be the guy who gets the pity clap kind of thing, but it did help to get that support from everyone. It made me realize it was still sort of important what I was doing, even though I wasn't going to finish where I wanted. It proved to myself that next time I'm here I'm going to run to my fullest ability, no matter if it's 33 minutes or 30 minutes or 29," he said.
Looking back, Moskowitz chuckled at the race and how it played out. His fitness was peeking just at the right time of the season.
"It was crazy how quickly it changed. I was in the mindset of, 'Wow, I could have a really great race here.' The way my season had been going, I had a pretty bad regular season and came to Regionals and had my best race of the season so far. I was really starting to hit the workouts really nicely, so I was excited for this race. I had told myself from the start that I'm committed to my teammates and I was going to run tough no matter what happened. My mindset changed from, 'I'm going to place really well,' to, 'I'm just going to run as tough as I can,'" he said. "Adrenaline sort of took over and I went after it however I could. I knew my teammates were running as hard as they could so I figured I might as well go for it [after the fall]."
At the finish, Moskowitz was swiftly taken to the medical tent to be checked over. He was cleaned up and assessed, and given tests for a possible concussion. Upon his return to the N.C. State tent near the start, Moskowitz was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of teammates who'd heard what happened. The Wolfpack placed 22nd of 31 teams.
"It was really awesome, they gave me a big hug and said, 'you're the toughest kid I've ever met,' and that kind of thing," Moskowitz recalled. "My coaches gave me that support too. I transferred here this year, and that's a big reason I came here because I really feel like the team and coaches are a big family and support each other even when it's the toughest day, the toughest cross country race I've ever been in. It was really awesome to have them for that support."
As pictures from NCAA's have spread through the media, countless friends and family have reached out to Moskowitz expressing their concern --and awe-- with regard to his race. Moskowitz's mother, Shari, was very concerned and called him in tears ("She saw the pictures and thought I was completely destroyed" he said). Moskowitz's Facebook profile picture is now one from the finish stretch, blood covering his face, neck, shirt, and legs; it has gained more than 200 likes.
"I don't think it deserves that much attention. But I guess the pictures are pretty brutal," Moskowitz said with a laugh. "I guess it just served and was a good opportunity to prove to myself that I could get through anything. I think I just had the circumstance of getting kicked in the face, and that's pretty much what it was. But I think pretty much any distance runner would have done the same thing, I feel. People say they wouldn't have, but the mindset of a distance runner is that pretty much anyone would have done that [finish]."
Resting in Raleigh, Moskowitz said he is experiencing a very sore nose, headaches, and mild concussion symptoms. Follow up appointments are schedule with doctors to assess the symptoms, and a CT Scan is planned to rule any other injuries out.
Though he'll take some time off before the indoor track season, Moskowitz is eager to lace up his spikes again. He'll focus on the mile and 3000m indoors, then the 1500m and 5000m on the outdoor oval.
"I can't wait to start on track and start showing what kind of shape I was in at the end of the season, even though it didn't show at the nationals race," he said. "Even though this is kind of cool to get, whatever, the attention for a bloody face, I'd much rather have finished where I wanted and helped the team to place better. Hopefully next time I'm getting interviewed it's for becoming an All-American."