Ben Gilman talks Lee decision, sport and life

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What made you decide to sign to Lee University? 
I chose to sign with Lee University for a number of reasons the first being that Coach Morgan (head coach) heavily pursued me. We were constantly in contact and were able to establish a personal connection, which is something that definitely  affected my decision. Coach Morgan helped me see that a great working relationship could take place between him and myself during the next four years. The next big factor was the location of Lee. Located in Cleveland, Tenn. Lee is far away enough from Hilton Head (six hours) that I can be exposed to a new environment without the restrictions and limitations from my past life as a Seahawk; Lee is not too far away to be able to return home - when I need to- and cause some trouble with my younger siblings. 

Cleveland is nice, quaint and gets a touch more of a winter than we see in South Carolina.. Especially more than Hilton Head.. Trails, undiscovered routes and seemingly an unending amount of miles to be run, in Tennessee the convergence of the Blue Ridge mountains, the Appalachian mountains and the famed smokey mountains, lying at the heart of the state. Lee, is also roughly 20 minutes from the city of Chattanooga which is always live with vivid culture, an adventurous attitude and above all else running! All in all, Lee provides endless opportunities for a really enjoyable running experience... Tennessee and Cleveland breathes running. This environment really excited me and was another reason I seriously considered Lee for so long. The final tipping point for me was the people... More specifically the team. When I got to visit I met some really cool guys who loved the sport as much as I do. Although they're all very diverse, Their love for the sport binds them together. I got to see how ambitious they were. Lee finished 18th at the Division 2 national meet this this year and only look to improve in the following years. To be a part of that with such a close group of guys would be equally as fulfilling as it would be exciting. 

How did you make the final decision and who was involved? 
It's funny actually, I made the decision rather on a whim. One night I was getting in my car to drive home when coach Morgan reminded me that if I wanted to sign early the cutoff date was a week or so away (No pressure, right?).  I strapped in my seatbelt, was about to put my car in reverse, when I said to myself "What the heck?" Lee was everything I was looking for! Putting it off any further really just made me more anxious and there was no real reason not to. I texted Coach Morgan back and let him know then proceeded home to tell my parents. Although my parents and I discussed my thoughts about college, the choice was ultimately left up to me. Its the next four years of my life and they understood that, pushing myself to find what best suited me . 

What did you experience on each visit? 
Although I visited only Lee this year, Coach Mayo took me and a couple guys on the team on a college trip during the summer going into my sophomore year. I visited Wofford, Winthrop, Clemson, USC Upstate and Furman. All of these schools I just listed vary in size, academics and atmosphere and gave me a pretty good idea of wha sort of school I was looking for. When I visited Lee the feeling was there. I got to run with the team, sleep in the dorms and experience a day in the life of  Lee student... I loved it!

What were your top five choices? 
 A few of the big players were University of Florida, University of Michigan, University of San Francisco, Davidson and of course Lee.

How did you get involved in the sport and why?
This is a story I've shared many times and I'm sure I have shared on this website as well. I used to play soccer in lower and middle school and generally was a pretty quick kid. My father took my brother Sam and me to run a 5K in January of 2011 just for the fun of it. We ended up running pretty well (Keep in mind 20 minutes was pretty good for a sixth grade soccer player). The shortened version is I ended up at Hilton Head Island High School with Coach Mayo and Coach Wrightson who turned a 20 minute 5K kid into a 15 minute 5K kid with a couple state champ titles to brag. 

What has been your biggest challenge? 
Identity- In running there are always obstacles... In life there are always obstacles they're rather un-avoidable and actually quite necessary in order to grow both as an individual and as an operating piece of society. Ive faced my fair share of setbacks in this sport whether it be injuries, motivation and a lack of patience at certain times. If I've learned one thing as a runner its that you should expect the unexpected. My coach often refers to running as the sport filled with the most uncertainty. We simply must pray after a good day God will keep us from injury in the next. 

A lot of this uncertainty calls for runners to collective to ask themselves how viable is it to just be a runner? Maybe not every high-school runner ask's themselves that question but I know that I have several times... And maybe that's just because high school is also such an uncertain time for so many whether it be trying to find a college to go to and getting those grades to go to college and have a chance for a successful life after high-school... Anyways, asking questions like "What defines me?" or "Who is Ben Gilman?" and "Am I defined by my running?" really made me search and desperately want to know who is Ben Gilman? As I was saying earlier this sport is filled with an excess of uncertainty. 

If running were taken away from me how would I define myself? Is that even how I want to be know? I still don't have an answer and i still don't know exactly who I am or who I'm supposed to be but I know that isn't limited to the confines of simply being a runner. So, grappling with my identity has always been a challenge that underlies most of the trials I face daily but I know that Lee
  is another step forward towards finding that answer. 

What did you learn from the experience? 
I'm learning more and more that you can't put all your eggs in one basket. At least not yet. I'm still finding my passions and loves; A lot in life is fragile. 

How is training now that the season is over?
Training right now is in a transition stage. Track season requires a different kind of runner. Currently I'm cross training and lifting some weights so I will be in good position to finish off my last track season. 

Any top events already preparing for the upcoming seasons? 
Right now I'm focused on the 1600 and the 800 but that could change depending on how the season unfolds and what States will look like this year. 

How do you look at your time at Hilton Head? 
My time at Hilton Head, when its all said and done has been fulfilling. It's absolutely incredible to look back over the past four years and see just how much I've grown. Growth as a runner and growth as a person are the two things Coach Mayo wants to see... But growth as an individual and learning life lessons to him take precedent. He told me once that his job as a high school coach was to give us an unforgettable high-school experience. I can look at the list of times on the wall and at the pictures on my fridge and say that he has accomplished that and more. 

What will you miss the most? 
The thing that I will miss the most would have to be the Seahawks distance program atmosphere. Although kids come and go throughout the years there is one thing that always stays the same.. The attitude and drive of the runners in the program. A lot of this atmosphere and general culture has to do with coaches and the people in the program who tirelessly work to ensure that the team is well equipped to compete and train at a high level... The other part of this has to do with legacy and what it means to wear a Seahawk singlet. With a reputation for excellency, being a member of the the Hilton Head cross-country team means more than running for just yourself. I will miss the team, all the memories we have made this past year, but most of all the dedication and striving that we all shared day in and day out that propelled us all to new heights. 

How do you rate this season and your time as a Seahawk?
This season was entirely different for me. I felt my time was limited and that their needed to be someone to set a precedent for what the team should look like in the following years. Their were a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of them younger who were still able to make an impact on the program. In a way I was reminded by my first year I ran on the team. Inclusion was my main goal. Sure, I've run some fast times and won some awards but that's not all that I want my legacy to contain.

I could break every world record but be total jerk and at the heart I'm still a terrible person (by no means am I saying that I'm going to break every world record). This year I wanted to pave the way for younger kids to be able to step up, not be afraid to challenge the older kids and feel that they had a value by participating in this sport. I think I can now say that the team dynamic is so much better than before I was here. Its exciting to see kids see that they can truly achieve what they put their mind to. I want to see all these guys continue to do great things long after I'm gone. Thats what made this season different but so necessary. Come this spring, track season will be upon which is a totally different sport. The team is completely different and more individualized. I hope then to run fast and continue to lead by example during track season. I rate this season very highly.

What would you say is the biggest memory you have? 
The biggest memory that I have will probably when I turned around and saw that my brother had finished right behind me in the state meet... Hopefully solidifying us as one of the most highly-regarded brother cross-country duos ever in the state of South Carolina.

What do you hope to study and otherwise achieve in college?
I'm going to study political science at Lee University. I'm not exactly sure where that may lead but I'm extremely interested in the political realm of the United States and hope to be able to make an impact in some form or another one day. 

How does it feel to have the decision made prior to the season? 
It feels like a weight is lifted off my chest. Im so glad that I was able to so easily make this decision so early. I am now able to focus on track season and achieving some big goals. 

How did the coaches react when informed? 
Coach Mayo and Coach Wrightson were both as equally excited as I was. They both felt that Lee offered a great number of opportunities for my running career to continue forward and succeed.