UB distance runner Brian Crimmins overcomes injury to break school records


Things have started to “click” for Brian Crimmins these past few weeks, he says.

He’s broken multiple school records for the Buffalo track and field team and has placed himself among the top runners in the entire country. There are talks of him trying to earn a spot at the Olympic Trials.

But just few months ago, the senior distance runner wasn’t breaking records or receiving accolades. He wasn’t on the track at all.

He was rehabbing in a pool for an hour to an hour and a half every day while recovering from a torn lateral meniscus.

Crimmins, a senior pharmacology and toxicology major, has been running track for about a decade and he’s faced his share of adversity along the way. His ability to break records and juggle school, a social life and athletics, all while moving past an injury has lead him to be a Division-I record-breaking track athlete.

On Feb. 12, Crimmins set a school record in the 1,000m run with a time of 2:22.74 at the Spire Invitational. The time puts him third overall amongst all college athletes across the nation in that event.

As impressive as this accomplishment is, this isn’t the first time Crimmins has broken a school record for the track team this season.

Crimmins broke the UB mile record twice this semester, the first time occurring at Penn State on Jan. 29 with a time of 4:07.79, and the second time at Akron on Feb. 6 with a time of 4:07.75.

“Things have just started to click in the last couple of weeks,” Crimmins said.

“Clicking” is a modest way to put it, especially for an athlete who holds seven different indoor and outdoor track records at UB.

His success on the track can be attributed to his work ethic just as much as it can his talent.

“[Crimmins is] one of those guys that’s up at the front in all of our workouts – he’s one of those lead by example kind of people,” said fellow senior distance runner Tyler Scheving. “Even if he’s having a bad day you can tell he’s giving every ounce of effort in practice.”

Crimmins’ competitive nature led him to be unanimously voted captain of the Buffalo distance squad. Todd Witzleben, Bulls associate head coach, said Crimmins has a “type-A personality” and is very driven.

“He’s pretty much exactly what you’d look for in a runner,” he said.

For Crimmins, his motivation is simply rooted in his competitive nature.

“For me it’s just about competing,” Crimmins said. “Definitely like to improve my times but it’s more about just going out there and trying to get first place no matter who’s out there.”

This indoor track season might have started off with broken records, but it came after a semester of hardship for the rising track star.

The injury that fueled success

Crimmins’s knee issues have been ongoing since last indoor season. Last winter break, he took some time off from track due to knee soreness.

“I didn’t really think too much of it,” he said. “[The doctors] thought I just needed more rest.”

Despite what the medical professionals thought, this soreness was severe enough to put Crimmins out for an entire season.

The injury that put him out occurred this October during practice for the cross country team. Crimmins was in the middle of running an all-out lap when he felt a click in his knee and immediately knew something was wrong.

He got an MRI and the doctor broke the disappointing news: Crimmins had a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. The doctor told him he wouldn’t be able to run again that semester. The news affected him physically and emotionally.

“We had a lot of good guys this year and I wanted to be a part of it. So definitely some depressed stages in there, just upset that I couldn’t join,” Crimmins said.

Crimmins’ injury was one he had to work through on his own, but he wasn’t the only one affected by it.“It was frustrating to see happen because he’d worked so hard,” Witzleben said. “He had had everything set for him to have a good season so, as a coach, it wasn’t the sort of situation you’d want to see one of your runners go through.”

The rehabbing was grueling and repetitive work. Crimmins would have to rehab in the pool for an hour to an hour and a half every single day.

“You wanna talk about monotony,” Scheving said. “It really just kind of shows how much the entire sport as a whole means to him.”

Crimmins’ cross country season was over as a result of the torn meniscus, but the injury wasn’t all bad news.

“You can have your whole meniscus taken out, which entails a long recovery, but I only had basically a piece taken out … it took me five weeks to recover,” Crimmins said.

The timing of the injury was also in Crimmin’s favor. Because it occurred so early in the season, Crimmins will get to run for the cross country team again next year when he will still be finishing his degree at UB.

NCAA athletes are only allowed four seasons of competition, but because Crimmins competed in less than a third of the competitions, the season counts as medical redshirt season and Crimmins will be eligible next season, per NCAA rules.

Running for another year is a plus, but arguably the best part of the injury is that it made Crimmins push even harder.

“I just tried to use it as motivation, like fuel for a comeback,” Crimmins said.

With two school records broken so far this semester, it’s safe to say that the comeback was a success. But his current success has its roots in the past.

Making a record breaker

Crimmins originally played soccer, but after attending a few of his oldest sister’s track meets, he took an interest in the sport.

“That’s when I started thinking about switching,” Crimmins said.

He made the switch in the seventh grade. After 10 years of competing, Crimmins is confident in his abilities as a runner and knows what he’s capable of.

But it wasn’t always that way.

His sophomore year at Horseheads High School, Crimmins was running about a 4:30 mile. He wanted to get into the low four-minute time mark but wasn’t sure it was possible.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way I’ll ever get down there,’ but it was definitely one of my goals,” Crimmins said. “I just pushed and progressed a lot and I ran a 4:14 mile at the end of the year. After that, the seconds kept shaving off. I had figured out how to push myself to that level and that’s when the time really started dropping.”

The times dropped so low in high school for Crimmins that he set school records in the 800m, 1000m and the 1600m run.

This high school success seems to have paved the way for the success Crimmins is experiencing at the collegiate level. Things have changed since high school though. More at the collegiate level than in high school, Crimmins has to balance being a runner with being a student.

Off the track

Being a student and a Division-I athlete is a demanding combination, but Crimmins thinks he’s figured out the key to succeed at both.

“The big thing is just time management. If you can manage your time well then you can still have the opportunity to get things done,” he said. “Obviously balancing running, academics and social life is difficult but it’s doable.”

Scheving is one of the social connections Crimmins made through balancing his life properly. The two runners met during their visits to UB.

“He wasn’t really a very talkative person,” Sheving recalled. “It wasn’t until we came to college that we all opened up and we got to find out who he really was.”

According to Scheving, the person that’s underneath Crimmins’ initial reserved nature is one worth knowing, both as an athlete and a friend.

“Even when he’s not racing he takes a step back and goes from being a track athlete to track fan. He loves the atmosphere and watches everyone’s race and cheers for everybody [on the team],” Scheving said. “He’s the embodiment of the perfect teammate.”

But even the seemingly perfect teammate has his quirks.

Scheving added that unlike most distance runners, who like to keep their diet relatively clean so their body can be as healthy as possible, Crimmins will usually eat and drink whatever he wants.

The star runner is able to do so and still be successful because he exercises so much.

Another hurdle

Crimmins has one more year left at UB and one more season of cross country left to run. But, he’s not quite sure if he will run after college or not. He’s more focused on the moment than he is on the future. He said he will start thinking about running after college when he needs to.

Right now his focus is more on strengthening the little things.

“As you get more experience it’s easier to know what kind of pain barriers you can break,” Crimmins said. “But at the same time … I was so good at maxing out my speed in high school that it’s hard for me to improve now. Now it’s just about the little things and the minor details.”

Crimmins said he’s focused on stretching and pushing hard on the short-speed workouts. Whereas Crimmins seems to be more concerned with refining and sharpening his talent, Witzleben is concerned with something much bigger for the runner.

“We’re looking at him to make that leap beyond Buffalo, beyond the school records to the national level,” Witzleben said. “That’s the next big thing for him to be looking at the Olympic Trials.”

Witzleben thinks Crimmins’ best shot at the Olympic Trials is in the 800m run. In order to qualify in that event, Crimmins would need to run the event at a time of 1:46.00. That’s 2.71 seconds faster than Crimmins’ personal record.

Despite the seemingly small gap in times, the task won’t be an easy one. Two seconds is hard for an athlete to shave off of their overall time in one season.

“It’s a daunting task,” Witzleben said.

But if anyone can do it, it may just be Crimmins.

John Jacobs is the assistant editor for the features desk and can be reached at john.jacobs@ubspectrum.com