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Hurleys' nuggets of Division I athletic wisdom

Division I athletics runs in the Hurley family. Don, Keeghan and Ann pose together after last season's state cross country championship at St. Olaf. Submitted photo1 / 2
Keeghan Hurley runs at the front of the pack at the Roy Griak Invitational in St. Paul. He finished sixth out of nearly 500 runners. Robert Williams/FOCUS2 / 2

PERHAM — The Hurley family has all the genetics for Division I college sports. The road to get there, like many stories of successful athletes, has been fraught with tribulations to overcome. Success never comes easy. It comes with hard work.

Don and Ann Hurley, parents of Meghan, Michael and Keeghan, set the bar high during their own athletic eras.

Ann was a walk-on at the University of Minnesota after a second place state finish in the 800m in high school. She held the college’s 800m school record for over two decades. A disqualification in her senior state high school meet dried up notice from colleges forcing her to walk on to the Gophers.

Don won back-to-back Class 2A cross country titles in 1976 -77 at Cretin, along with the team title in 1975. He moved on to the University of Minnesota, as well, where he was named All-Region in 1979, the Fred O. Watson Team MVP award winner in 1980, and as Captain led the 1981 team to a 12th place NCAA finish.

In a time when professional running was far less organized than the present, he ran for Saucony and New Balance.

Don did not start off as a runner. Like many Minnesotans, especially those growing up in the rough West 7th Street area of St. Paul, Don wanted to play hockey.

Don was shifted in middle school from St. Paul public schools to Cretin, a private Catholic school “up the hill” from where he was raised. His home life was less than stellar and unlike that of many of his new classmates at Cretin.

“I didn’t have good clothes; I didn’t have anything,” he said. “My dad, through all of his troubles, put me through that private, Catholic school, which was probably the best thing he ever did for me.’

Don’s father battled alcoholism.

“He only saw me run twice my entire career. He just didn’t have an interest in it.”

That lack of interest is part of the make-up of how the Hurleys have chosen to parent their children and both Ann and Don, with a Division I gene pool, found the road to rearing their kids a much more difficult task than expected given all of their success.

“Mike was ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Meghan was dyslexic and Keeghan didn’t speak until he was three. That was the start of the bell tolling - how did this happen to our kids? We didn’t have any expectations. We were so low at times and were just hopeful they would go on to college one day.”

That day is coming for the last of their three kids, Keeghan, a senior at Perham and currently one of, if not the most sought after Division I recruit at Perham Public Schools.

The road to this point has been long, arduous and the Hurleys moved to multiple school districts in Becker and Otter Tail Counties to provide the best opportunity for each of their children to succeed.

“Now, you don’t see where they were in sixth grade. Michael had a report card of all D’s and F’s. Meghan could not read or write in second grade.”

The Hurleys settled on Fergus Falls where Meghan got the help she needed and Michael and Keeghan brought the Otters their first-ever state swimming championship in 2011. The brothers swam on relays together. Michael broke his own state record in the 200-I.M. Michael also set a state record as a junior in the backstroke, along with winning individual titles in four events.

A far cry from the boy who had trouble passing classes, and he continues to succeed as a D-I swimmer at the University of Indiana, even being named to the Big Ten All-Academic team.

In his sophomore season, Mike finished 28th in the 200 individual medley at the 2013 NCAA Championships (1:45.23) ... also took 22nd in the 100 breaststroke (53.70) and 22nd in the 200 breaststroke (1:56.69) ... seventh in the 200 individual medley at the 2013 Big Ten Championships with a time of 1:45.31 ... his 1:45.09 in prelims is a career best ... ninth in the 100 breaststroke with a career-best mark of 53.32 ... 10th in the 200 breaststroke with a career-best time of 1:56.21 ... fifth in the 100 breast in a dual meet win at Louisville ... eighth in the 100 breast in a dual with Texas and Michigan ... fourth in the 200 breaststroke at Louisville ... ninth vs. Texas/Michigan ... 30th in the 200 individual medley at the 2012 USA Swimming Winter Short Course Nationals ... Academic All-Big Ten.

Meghan went on to earn a Masters degree and is currently working on her PhD. She owns one Minnesota state high school medal from a fourth place Section finish in swimming.

“She’s happy about her swimming; she’s happy about her brothers and she’s doing really well,” said Don.

The Hurleys have a family goal of earning 100 Minnesota State High School League medals and are closing in on that number in Keeghan’s senior season.

With Michael and Meghan’s high school graduations, Keeghan was left with the choice of continuing his success in swimming at Fergus Falls or transferring to Perham to chase his dream of running.

“To choose between the two, it just tears your heart apart,” Keeghan said. “It was really hard. I just woke up and said, ‘I want to run. That’s my dream.’ I had to pick. I think I could have gone Division I in either one, but to be great at it, you can’t be in multiple sports. You have to put so much time into one thing.”

The family moved back to the Perham district to allow Keeghan a chance to follow his dream. To do that, Keeghan had to sit out his entire sophomore season to become eligible to run for Perham.

“My poise from last year to this year is completely different,” Keeghan said. “Last year, coming off the year of ineligibility, I feel like I took a year that was more damage than anything good. I didn’t learn how to race. I didn’t have that presence. Now I feel when I take the lead there I am. It was a huge struggle. It was really tough. The hardest part about the whole thing is when you transfer you don’t know what’s going to happen. I didn’t know if my transfer to Perham was going to work out. If it didn’t I’d lose another year of eligibility. I’d lose my dream.”

Keeghan Hurley

Part of chasing dreams is the perseverance when times are tough, which the Hurleys know plenty about, and being willing to gamble on goals and find that level of success.

“We have a different philosophy with our kids,” Don said. “We like the mental approach and preparation. It isn’t about win or lose, but about did you do your best?”

“My motivation is college and to see how far I can get and go for my dreams,” said Keeghan. “The sky's the limit. That’s one thing I’ve learned from Coach Morris. Just go for your dreams.”

The finale of what has been a family uphill battle to success will end with Keeghan’s senior cross country career in a similar fashion - the big hill that leads to the final straightaway at St. Olaf where Hurley aims to be in the running for an individual state championship come November.

“I have to perform now,” he said. “That’s where it’s going to be decided. It could come down to the last hill. I am definitely very excited for that.”

When Keeghan finished in the top 10 at state as a junior he lamented not being able to match his father’s back-to-back state titles, which is a show of the level of winning mentality inherent in the Hurley’s bloodline, which has been tempered by both parents to not concentrate on expectations, but put forth maximum effort for results.

“It’s not good to expect your kids to do what you did,” said Don. “All that just puts pressure on them.”

Keeghan is facing some pressure having to decide what to do next year at the college level. He is currently exploring running opportunities with Montana State University, the University of Oregon and here at home at Minnesota where he would follow in his parents’ footsteps.

“Oregon has been my dream since I was eight-years-old,” said Keeghan. “I love the coaches and altitude at Montana State. I’m also looking at the University of Minnesota, the home-state and they have a great coach. It would be cool to to run where my parents ran.”

The Hurleys have visited all three schools and signing day is four months away. Keeghan’s senior track season will have little to do with his recruiting platform. He has to prove himself between now and November to catch a ride to where he wants to go.

“I have to catch these milestones: try to win state and do what’s best for me.”

Which will bring an end to quite a saga for one local family and how they have worked through unexpected hardships to see three kids off to remarkable levels of success.

The end of Keeghan’s high school career marks a significant change for both parents.

“It’s going to be sad because sports has meant so much to our family.”

“Having D-I parents is a huge bonus,” said Keeghan. “I learned so much when I was little. Just in the recruiting process, I have a huge advantage from watching my brother go through it. Both my parents are so successful that I look for any nugget I can pick up.”

Scholarships definitely come into play. Given the rich history of Oregon and the ample supply of top recruits wanting to go there, a move would require Keeghan to walk on.

Then again, Ann has all the knowledge of what that entails.

Montana State and Minnesota may be more viable options because of scholarship opportunities. Don ran at Minnesota on a full-ride. Looks like that path is covered with nuggets of wisdom, as well.

“My family is so supportive I don’t have to go at it alone,” Keeghan said. “My dad, in his day, he became a professional runner. He had to do it alone. It was so hard just to try to get into meets. My mom was a relay All-American; she is definitely an inspiration. I used to just sit and wish I could be half the man compared to what my mom and dad are. I don’t know how they did it, but they raised our family with a D-I attitude. My parents are my biggest fans. They’re always there for me. What’s so cool is ever since I was in sixth grade I always shot for my dad’s times. His times were the ones I had to get. I have something to shoot for and I’m able to take his advice until I get to his level.”

Keeghan is on the path to reaching those marks and his parents are there at every meet, Ann with a camera and Don with in-race advice.

“Until I get there, I’m going to keep listening to them,” Keeghan said. “There’s always a nugget.”

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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