An unexpected turn

Track was never part of Riley Brandon’s plan, until a prayer changed everything

The Tolsma Indoor Track is a sight to see here at Liberty University. On any given day, one might watch distance runners loop around the track seemingly on repeat, while pole vaulters clear new heights and jumpers work on their form. But upon looking closer there are some who do it all, both on and off the track.

Riley Brandon walked onto the Liberty Track and Field team in 2011 as a heptathlete and has been on the rise ever since, winning multiple Big South Titles including a 2014 Indoor and Outdoor sweep. Now a captain and prized member of a consistently dynamic team, Brandon has come a long way from her initial starting line.

All smiles — Riley Brandon looks to pursue track beyond her time at Liberty. Photo credit: Kevin Manguiob

All smiles — Riley Brandon looks to pursue track beyond her time at Liberty. Photo credit: Kevin Manguiob

Born in California, raised in Idaho and currently living in Texas, she is a “multi” (as is commonly the nickname for her event) in every aspect of life. The middle child of four, she looked up to her older sister, who was also an athlete and in-house trainer. She pushed her constantly in the weight room, inspiring her to get better and showing her what it meant to be truly dedicated.

“Surprisingly, I wasn’t a big sports person,” Brandon said. “I loved ballet and dance, all things girly.”

Originally wanting to be a cheerleader, her dad led her to the volleyball sign up table instead, insisting that the cheerleading sign ups were full. They were not, but little did her father know her life course was being rerouted.

Though the 2015-2016 season is her 11th year in track and field, she did not have a specific event until later in her career.

The heptathlon, Brandon’s event, is seven grueling events that require a whole lot of stamina. She dabbled in a few different events in high school, but volleyball was her main focus and it even got her college offers at other universities. Track was merely used as a means of conditioning.

“I really had a disdain for track, so when I was a freshman in high school, I remember thinking ‘Four years, and then I’m done’ and every year was like a tally list of one more year done,” Brandon said. “So when I started having the thought go through my mind of pursuing it in college, I knew that was not of me.”

So she prayed. Scared of what God’s response would be, Brandon prayed for clarity. In the book of Judges, the illustration of the sheepskin cloak remaining dry while the grass was wet with dew is what Brandon imagined. And that is how she prayed for God to speak.

She admits that the thought of being a college track athlete was something she was embarrassed to even share with her high school classmates. Four years later, however, track is something she plans on pursuing even after her time at Liberty is finished.

“When I came to Liberty track, I thought God was trying to humble me … and he’s taught me a lot,” Brandon said. “But the thing that I thought I would hate for four years has become such a passionate love of mine that I want to do after college … it’s taught me obedience is so important to the Lord’s plan because he had my greatest desires on his heart and mind when I was trying to say, ‘Lord you don’t know what I want.’”

Since making the commitment, Brandon has won three championships, but her junior year ECAC meet at Princeton stands out as a highlight in her mind. Nothing was really panning out the way she planned on the first day of competition, but then something clicked. That meet continues to stand as the best of her career Brandon will tell you that the long jump is not her strongest event, but she always steps up, hopeful that each jump will be her breakthrough. In her last jump of her junior season, she hit 17-7, which she noted is not an accomplishment for many, but was a highlight in her mind.

“Her progress has been phenomenal athletically, but it’s been directly related to her progress just with the balance of sports,” Assistant Head Coach Lance Bingham said.

At High Point, Brandon used a bad performance as an opportunity to share Christ with the opposition. After performing poorly in her high jump event, she could have jeopardized the team’s championship hopes, but she was competing for more than herself. That conversation with a competitor established a great friendship to this day.

As for life after college, Brandon wants to have her own counseling practice geared toward life-coaching young girls.

As a leader on the track and field team, she gets the opportunity to put that passion to practice every day. She gets to come alongside teammates and friends and be there for them. But life after Liberty now includes some new, lofty goals.

“Someone asked me once, ‘Are you training for the Olympics?’ and I said, ‘No, because I’m not good enough to go to the Olympics right now,’ but I’ve realized that’s the epitome of an athlete, so that should be on my bucket list too.”

An Interdisciplinary studies major in undergrad, Brandon combined business, art and psychology to fit her passions.

Really, Brandon’s life is one big heptathlon. She is not from one state, she is from three. She did not have one focus for her major, she had three. And when one event never really stuck, she decided to take on seven. That leap of faith and obedience to Christ has made all the difference.

Carter is a sports reporter.

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