By Ryan Graney
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
When you get knocked down, getting back up can be the biggest challenge.
Sophomore runner Brock Simmons, before competing in track and cross country, learned the hard way about getting up - he spent the better part of a decade earning his black belt in taekwondo.
A common thread during Simmons' pursuit of the black belt was adversity. He recalls learning to battle hardships through martial arts at a young age, something that has helped him achieve success as a collegiate runner.
"I think it helps with work ethic and life in general," Simmons said of his martial-arts background. "When I started, my parents put me in a division above my age, so I was always the smallest and youngest. I would get kicked down, and you have to learn to keep going.
"That definitely carries over to track. I've had a pretty rough last couple of years, and I haven't performed the way I wanted to. I've had some injuries, and you have to get back out there and running."
Simmons was a three-time state champion and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state meet record holder in the 1,600 and 3,200-meter races but his college career didn't begin as he had hoped. The Denton, Texas, native battled injuries and the transition to competitive running at the collegiate level.
"Running is so much more mental for me than anything," Simmons said. "I came in with all of these expectations that I was going to run so much better than I did in high school. I had a lot of injuries, put on a lot of weight. I didn't race for a long time.
"The second year, I came back with the same ideas, hoping to change things for the better. You get knocked down with the injuries mentally. You get down on yourself for not performing the way that you expected. You have to get back up."
In this, his third year with the Texas program, Simmons has emerged as a top performer. He led the Longhorns to victory at the Princeton Invitational on Oct. 17 by finishing third overall out of 179 participants. Simmons also was the Longhorns' fourth finisher in last week's Big 12 Championships, helping them earn a fifth-place finish. Although he has had strong individual performances, Simmons takes pride in how the team performed.
"I think I speak for the whole team when I say it was very redeeming," Simmons said. "Last year, we were way below what we wanted to be all across the board. Coach (John) Hayes has really turned everything around for us. We're getting along socially as a team. We're hanging out. We're doing stuff together. We're bonding.
"Winning that meet at Princeton as a team is the best thing that could've happened to us mentally, especially two weeks from the Big 12 meet and a month from regionals. It's shown us that we can run well, we can win and we can do it as a team."
The team-first attitude that Simmons possesses is something that is appreciated by Texas coach John Hayes. He has seen Simmons develop into a more confident runner, which has helped him come into a leadership role.
"Brock's ability to lead and have a positive influence on team members has really come on strong this year," Hayes said. "Last year, it was stifled a little because Brock just didn't have the confidence. Now, he sees himself as a strong runner and a contributor on the team. I see his comfort translating into being a more successful runner. Also, being a more successful runner has continued to build confidence and comfort in leading."
One person who has benefited from Simmons' experience is freshman runner Austin Roth. Roth and Simmons' relationship has its roots before they became college teammates. They trained at the same running club in the Dallas area while in high school. This season, Simmons has served as a mentor and friend to the younger Roth.
"He's a really good guy," Roth said. "I came down over the summer, and I hung out with him for three or four days. He showed me the campus and showed me the facilities. Since the season started, he's always offered to give me rides. He's been there if I ever needed a place to hang out or someone to hang out with or someone to take me some place. He's always been there."
Simmons' newfound approach to track and cross country has been evident to his coaches and teammates. Hayes is grateful for the way that Simmons has worked past his early struggles. His positive outlook is something that makes him a valued part of the Longhorn family.
"I want guys that really just love UT and Austin," Hayes said. "Brock is one of those guys. I am very proud of not only Brock's improvement and attitude that he takes into every workout but towards the team as a whole. I have never seen such a quick turnaround."
That's no surprise considering that Simmons has experience in bouncing back from being knocked down.