Not even rockets being fired in his general direction have stopped Nova Southeastern cross-country standout Long Tran from running.
When he was deployed in Afghanistan as a medic, Tran, 26, used to run inside the U.S. Army’s fenced-in camp.
“The Taliban would shoot mortars inside our base,” said Tran, a naturalized U.S. citizen and a native of Saigon, Vietnam. “It would happen about once a week, usually at night. Our sirens would go off, and we would go into a bunker.
“It was dangerous. When I ran, I just kept my eyes open through the fence.”
Tran said nobody was hurt while he was there, but there was an explosion at the camp in the year before his arrival.
Although he’s still in the Army Reserves, Tran is much safer now that he’s at Nova.
Since he has been out of high school for eight years, the NCAA’s Division II lists him as a junior, even though this is his first year as a collegiate runner.
Tran had to sit out much of this season while waiting for the NCAA to clear him to compete, a fact that frustrated him.
Still, he finished fourth on his team and 17th overall in the NCAA South Region finals, helping the Nova men qualify for nationals for just the second time in school history.
Nova coach Bryan Hagopian, whose father and two brothers served in the military, has a deep appreciation for anyone who serves his country.
Because of that, he has a policy that anyone who has been in the military automatically makes his team. From there, of course, qualifying for meets is strictly based on times.
When Tran tried out, he impressed Hagopian immediately.
“He came here from out of the blue,” Hagopian said of Tran’s walk-on status. “But he was running everyone’s doors off in practice — he was killing it.”
Hagopian, the All-South Region and Sunshine State Conference Coach of the Year, said Tran’s long wait to get cleared by the NCAA took some of his edge off. While his teammates were competing in races, Tran could only practice.
This Saturday, Tran will get his final chance of this cross-country season at Joplin, Mo., where the NCAA nationals will be held.
After that, Tran will run track and then have one full year before he is set to graduate with a degree in nursing.
It certainly has been an interesting road so far for Tran. His maternal grandfather was an American soldier during the Vietnam War.
Tran, whose first name means “dragon” in Vietnamese, left his native country with his family at age 6.
The family settled in Chesapeake, Va., and Tran decided he wanted to join the military after watching the destruction that occurred on 9/11.
Through it all, he has never stopped running. The 5-9 Tran tried wrestling and football in high school, but he found those sports too restrictive to because of the time spent on the mat or on the practice field.
In cross-country, he can train anywhere — and he has.
In high school, his coach gave the team T-shirts with the words “Run Long,” a play on Tran’s name.
Tran has lived up to that motto and currently logs between 80 and 90 miles per week.
“It feels good when I run,” Tran said. “When I first started running at Nova, I would I wear out before the workout was done. I had never trained with a college team before.
“I didn’t know how to pace myself, but I’m learning quickly.”