(PHOTO COURTESY: AMERICA EAST COMMUNICATIONS)
Eric Speakman, above, is looking to help the Stony Brook cross country team reclaim the America East title, which the team last held in 2012. (PHOTO COURTESY: AMERICA EAST COMMUNICATIONS)

Eric Speakman had to travel nearly 9,000 miles be a part of the Stony Brook cross country team.

But, despite the distance and time he spends away from his home in Napier, New Zealand, Speakman still feels right at home at Stony Brook.

“Everywhere you go [in Stony Brook] you always feel valued,” Speakman said. “People are always really thankful here.”

In New Zealand, he was part of  small cross country and track teams. But as a part of a much larger Seawolves team, he appreciates and values his relationship with his teammates on and off the course.

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“Everybody is particularly interested in each other,” he said. “I think that everyone gets along pretty well with each other.

Although Speakman is extremely grateful for all the support he gets from his team and the Stony Brook community, he admits it would be remiss if he did not recognize encouragement he receives back in New Zealand.

“I know that no one can ever be disappointed by me back home,” he said jokingly. “They still think I’m awesome even when I’m running bad races, and I have to use that as motivation, the ‘I left my whole life behind’ kind of thing.”

Speakman also acknowledged that getting up and leaving everything, especially his family, in New Zealand was not an easy decision, but it is one that has allowed him to expand and extend, what he considers family.

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“There were certainly challenges coming here,” Speakman said, as he shrugged his shoulders. “But moving into a team was really nice, even though I left my family behind, I immediately had a new family.”

In addition to a welcoming team, the opportunity to race against some of the best runners in the world has also helped Speakman value his time in the United States a little more.

Speakman said. “The international experience has been great, there’s so many runners here. Not only the best guys from America, but you get the best from New Zealand, the best Australian guys, the English guys, Irish guys, there’s Kenyans that we race against…there’s always someone good to race against.”

The quality of the competition is something that has helped Speakman maintain his focus and motivation, while being away from New Zealand. He hopes that exposure to such a high level of competition can help him grow as a runner and eventually extend his career.

“It was what I wanted,” he said. “I knew that this was the path to get better at running and further my career.”

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Even though Speakman has thought about the future, he knows that there is still a lot for him and his teammates to accomplish at Stony Brook.

One of those goals is recapturing the America East title, which the team won in 2012. And as one of the leaders on the team, Speakman knows that it will take a complete team effort to achieve that sought-after championship again.

“It comes down to the quality of workouts that we do with each other,” Speakman said. “We try to work together and push each other to do everything right everyday.”

Though much of the success that the cross-country team has experienced over the last few years can be attributed to the runners, Speakman does not hesitate to his praise his coach, Andy Ronan, for not only helping him improve as a runner, but for also providing an auspicious social environment here at Stony Brook.

“Coach Ronan is awesome,” Speakman said, “He’s the reason I came here.”

However, Ronan was quick to give credit to Speakman and reiterate his importance to the team.

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“He has developed into a very good racer, and has matured into a student athlete that has the ability to make it on the National stage,” Ronan said.

As Speakman’s senior season is winding down he reminisces on his long journey to the states.

“It’s definitely been a huge ride,” Speakman said. “Running took over my life, and once I got good at it, I wanted to come over and make a claim for myself in the states.”

With the countless awards, victories and relationships he has earned and will continue to earn, it is safe to say that Speakman will leave an indelible mark and claim by the time he is finished at Stony Brook.

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