Western Washington University men’s track and field sprinter Alex Donigian has a different way of setting goals than most people.
For most people, success in track and field is measured in times, medals or personal bests. For Donigian, it’s based on effort.
“I told myself I want to run the race as best I can, and that’s basically it,” the senior anthropology and kinesiology major said in a phone interview. “If I walk away and did my best, had solid races, I’ll be happy with that. As far as other people out-competing me, I can’t control that. If I do the best I can that will be enough for me.”
Donigian knows how weird that must sound to people, especially when they find out he is a two-time WWU and Great Northwest Athletic Conference record holder in the 60-meter sprint.
“It’s really strange because a lot of people don’t have that attitude,” he said. “They have legitimate, concrete goals, but I don’t really operate that way. It all comes down to motivation, like why do they run? They might run to earn the medal, or better themselves, or achieve a goal, but I’m motivated by self-expression and almost a form of worship. The trophies or the records, the PRs, that stuff isn’t as important to me as it is to them.”
This expression has brought Donigian, along with fellow senior Katelyn Steen, to the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field National Championship. The event will take place from Friday, March 13, to Saturday, March 14, in Birmingham, Ala. The Vikings’ duo has its fair share of accolades this season. Donigian breaking his own record from last year in the 60, and Steen was named the West Region Women’s Track Athlete of the Year after running a school-record 9-minute, 38.92-second 3,000 meter run and a top-10 time of 16:46.92 in the 5,000 meters.
Donigian’s unorthodox motivations aren’t discouraged by his WWU coaches, though.
“Alex’s motivation is to run and express himself that way,” assistant coach David Burnett said in a phone interview. “He has a different motivation than a lot of athletes I’ve coached, so it’s easier and harder to coach. It’s challenging to keep him grounded in the goal, but it’s easy for him to remain humble as he gets all these accolades.”
For the 60, it’s not just about reaction and explosiveness, Donigian said. He does work on explosiveness with weights three times each week, intervals once each week and works out of the starting blocks twice each week.
“He’s already explosive and very strong, so that’s his strong suit,” Burnett said. “But we’ve also been working on his weaknesses like finishing. So the better his strength, the better he can finish.”
Burnett has had Donigian focused on the experience of being at nationals this week.
“I think (last year) he learned that there’s nothing above it you get from experience,” he said. “Last year was his first national championship experience at Western, so you don’t know what to expect other than what you’re told, but going through it you learn what the deal is. He’s learned a lot that you can’t really put into words, but he’s learned the process and to execute at the championship.”
While he is focused on the experience, Burnett also wants him to enjoy the experience instead of loading himself with pressure.
Donigian isn’t too worried about the weight of running in a national championship, though.
“I don’t really think about the places I’m going to go, I just kind of run,” he said. “It’s like when you’re a kid and tell your brother you’ll race him to the car. Winning or setting records is just an added bonus. My expectation is to run, and anything else is just icing on the cake.”
And while he enjoyed the experience both times he broke the 60-meter record, Donigian knows there he can get better.
“They’re both like my children, you can’t choose which was better or worse,” he said. “You’ll have good and bad parts of each race. There are beautiful parts and ugly parts, moments of sereneness and stress. The first time I broke it was great, but it was bittersweet the second time. I didn’t feel like my form was as good as it could be, and looking at the video, it wasn’t good form, so it was good to see there is room for improvement.”