sheila sobchik

Recent graduates Ben Bruce and Maggie Vessey, both track stars, have decided to take their running to the next level and make it a career.

Bruce and Vessey are now both sponsored by ASICS and have begun running professionally.

“It’s like turning pro for any athlete,” said Brian Thurmond, Cal Poly’s media relations director. “It gives you an opportunity to continue in something you love while getting paid for it.”

Bruce competed in Rhode Island earlier this month, where he placed 10th out of 32 runners in the U.S. 5k National Championships. He will be running next in Alabama in November.

“With running, you don’t hear about it as much because with the NBA or NFL, you hear about people getting drafted,” Bruce said. “With running, after your last collegiate race, you just wait to hear from companies.”

According to Bruce, many restrictions are placed on athletes when they compete in college. But by turning pro, many new opportunities become available.

“Once you’re pro, you can take stuff if you win prize money from races,” Bruce said. “Running for Asics, they give you all the equipment and shoes and apparel as well as they pay you.”

Bruce’s agent, Bob Wood, used to represent cross country coach Mark Conover in the 1980s. Wood said he chose to represent Bruce because, “He’s got a good range of distance.”

But being a good runner wasn’t enough for the Wood.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “You don’t want jerks and he’s a good person. That was a factor for me.”

Professional runners like Bruce and Vessey usually run between 10 and 30 races annually. Asics asks them to participate in certain competitions while still giving the runners some freedom to choose where and when to run.

“It’s a combination of what that company would like them to do and that athlete putting together their own schedule,” said Terry Crawford, Cal Poly’s track and field coach.

In addition to running professionally, Bruce is studying at Cal Poly to earn his teaching credential. He has also become a graduate assistant to the cross country team.

“These track athletes, while running professionally, can work in their chosen specialty,” Crawford said. “Ben is getting a teaching credential and is able to contribute still to our team.”

Bruce said he is interested in possibly coaching later on. He graduated in June with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis in physical education.

“I’m kind of taking a look at the behind the scenes with the coaches,” Bruce said. “It helps me because I have a group to train with and it helps the team because it’s one more person to help the team work out.”

According to Crawford, Vessey has moved to Santa Monica where she is trying to start a career in advertising while still fulfilling with her passion for running.

Vessey was a two-time All-American athlete while running for Cal Poly. She placed seventh in the 800-meter at the 2005 U.S. Track and Field Championships in June. She earned second in the same race at the NCAA Championships as well.

Bruce was also a two-time All-American athlete. He finished sixth in the 3,000-meter steeple chase at the 2005 NCAA Championships. He was also named Big West Male Track Athlete of 2005. In addition, Bruce competed in the U.S. Olympic trials in 2004.

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