“Life works in interesting ways,” says Sam Dumcum, reflecting on his unconventional journey to UTM. This fall, Sam became a full-time student.

Having spent six years in southern California as part of the U.S. Marines and the U.S. duathlon team while attending MiraCosta College in Oceanside, California, Dumcum saw his journey take an unexpected turn when he finally felt it was time to return to his home province of Manitoba.

And yet less than a month after returning home to Steinbach, Manitoba, he found himself on a plane to Toronto.

Strange as it may sound, the reasons were clear to Sam. “I met one of the most dynamic, intelligent, and beautiful women I had ever met,” he said.

After meeting his wife—now his wife of six years—and working through various jobs, Dumcum started his own media and promotions business in 2012. His desire to build his business is what brought him to UTM. “It was obvious that I needed to up my skills,” says Dumcum, a digital enterprise management major.

While school is his priority, running is his passion, a constant that has stayed with him despite the ever-changing variables in his life.

“In a sense it was the accessibility of running: a pair of shoes and away you go,” says Dumcum, contentedly.

Growing up, Dumcum’s family moved around a lot, and his choices of sports varied from place to place. His main sport, figure skating, eventually lost out to his newfound love of running, but Dumcum credits his time in figure skating with instilling a high compete level in him that fuels his running.

At the moment, Dumcum is one of the runners on the first incarnation of the UTM Eagles cross-country team. Since finding a passion in running, Dumcum has built an impressive list of credentials that would make him a valuable asset to any running squad.

Living in both Canada and the States has allowed Dumcum to compete for both countries at high levels. He has competed as an under-23 junior elite triathlete, which required over 23 hours of training a week, while working a part-time job and going to school. For those unfamiliar with triathlons, this is a competition involving three cycles of swimming, cycling, and running

The opportunity to compete nationally and eventually go pro was within reach, and although he did qualify for multiple national and world championships, the intense commitment became too much to keep up without full sponsorship.

The intensity of training for these triathlons began to take its toll. “I felt like I was on the edge of physical and mental collapse all the time,” recalls Dumcum. After a traumatic head-on collision that forced him to take a break from competition, Dumcum reevaluated his goals and found ways to balance the competing aspects of his life. Dumcum believes beyond question that he was at his peak performance between 2004 and 2006.

During that time, Dumcum shifted from triathlons to duathlons, a similarly staged competition involving cycling and running. After finding help through coach Chris Maund, who changed aspects of Dumcum’s routine with focus on the mental and physical side of training, Dumcum made it onto the podium in 2005 and 2006 as champion of the U.S. duathlon grand prix. Not only did he achieve success in athletics, qualifying for the world championship team, but Dumcum also garnered academic successes, landing on the dean’s list at his college.

His experience makes him more than qualified to compete at the OCAA level for UTM, and Dumcum is excited to help his new teammates achieve the same level of success.

Running has the interesting duality of being both an exercise and a sport. For those who run as exercise, running is the endgame. But it’s a different story for those who run in a competitive setting.

After Dumcum’s extensive training, his understanding of running has encompassed a broader spectrum to include both physical and mental aspects, giving him the necessary mental tools to cheat his body into performing even when it doesn’t want to comply.

“For me, mental is the biggest part of the game,” he says. “If my head isn’t in it, I’ll run around campus instead of running 10k in Erindale Park.”

The difficulty for many who run, whether for exercise or when training for a marathon, is having the motivation to start. Dumcum considers self-motivation one of the most important tools a runner can have in getting out the door. “It doesn’t matter how good your gear is—if your head isn’t in it, you’re beat before you even hit the trail,” he says.

If Dumcum does feel lethargic, his headphones or a well-deserved treat at the end of his run can get him going.

“Sometimes I run in the rain because it makes me feel competitive and hardcore,” Dumcum jokes. “Finding whatever gets you out is the most important tool you can have.”

Dumcum cites a talk he heard by Olympic gold medalist Simon Whitfield, who revealed his own tricks to get himself to run. “For him, listening to podcasts makes a 50-minute run not seem like a run—he’s just listening to a podcast,” he says.

Despite his successes and his desire to continue training, Dumcum’s relationship with running is a strange one. “Eighty percent of the time I hate running,” he reveals. “I know 50 km a week is a lot of time to spend doing something you hate, but I love competing, and even more, I love winning—even if winning is only doing better than I did last time.”

He says the “runner’s high” he feels post-run makes his efforts worthwhile in the short view, but it’s his inherent competitiveness that keeps him coming back for more.

After three meets and one OCAA provincial championship under his belt this fall, Dumcum will be able to focus on school while also completing offseason training with the cross-country team.

The team will be spending the next few months working with personal trainers at the RAWC and using the indoor track to build strength and speed in preparation for the 2015 season.