Give Mulerider Mickey Hammer a challenge and he will not only rise to meet it, he will exceed it. Hammer came to Southern Arkansas University as a freshman to compete with the Mulerider track and Cross Country team. Though the track team disbanded later that year, Cross Country is still running strong and Hammer is a motivating force on the team.
He is not only the newest SAU record breaker in cross country – beating out the 2004 record of Adrian Romanos in the 8K, which stood at 24.49 (Hammer’s record time was 24.39 minutes), he earned the Great American Conference Individual Champion title during the annual Cross Country Championships in East Central, Okla. Hammer headlined the men’s SAU cross country team, finishing first in the 8K with a time of 25:28:3. The SAU men’s and women’s team finished third overall.
Hammer is used to winning against the odds – making the most out of every opportunity.
Growing up in the small, north Arkansas town of Marshall – a population of about 1,300 – Hammer’s opportunities were limited.
Track was about all that was available in the seventh grade.
“They would take us to track meets and randomly place us. Coach threw me in a mile [event] and I came in dead last,” said Hammer. “That was what kind of sparked my interest. I never wanted to experience that losing feeling again. I pretty much trained myself through high school. No coach. I had to open up a lot of doors for myself.”
As a testament of that drive, Hammer collected a list of honors and awards for his dogged determination, including being a four-time recipient of the all-state award in cross country and track. He broke records for the mile, the two mile and 5K for Marshall High School and won several district championships, individually and with his team.
“Why do I run? The feeling of accomplishment every time you finish a run, the excitement when you get out ahead in the race – You get to prove you are one of the best among so many people,” he said.
His favorite event is the 10K, because it’s a longer race.
“You have more time to think about your strategy – Who’s going to fall back or speed up. In a 10K, you can figure out the whole race,” he said. “There’s a lot of math and strategy involved. Arkansas is a small market, so you get to learn others quicker. Good strategy comes with experience.”
Asked how fate led him to Southern Arkansas, Hammer said that he got an invite to come check out the campus and the program.
“I didn’t know SAU existed before a phone call. The SAU coach at the time knew that my times weren’t the fastest in high school, but he said they needed a leader,” said Hammer. “My high school coach told him I was one of the best leaders he’d ever seen and he valued that.”
Hammer immediately felt comfortable on the beautiful SAU campus.
“I came for a visit. I really liked it here. The town was close and every one was excited about me coming here. The faculty and staff were really nice. I felt like I was a person, not just a number on the board,” he said.
During his athletic career at SAU, Hammer was named to the all-conference second team (top 20) in the Gulf South Conference, as well as placing in the top 15 in the region, which consists of three conferences. Since SAU became part of a new conference in 2012, Hammer has been named the Great American Conference men’s cross country runner of the week for his performance at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla. There, he finished fifth overall out of 206 contestants in the college division of the annual meet, posting a time of 26:08.46 over the 8K course. The senior led the Muleriders to a 10th-place finish among 22 teams competing. The weekly honor is the second this season for Hammer, and the fourth of his career.