PU Men’s Track Alum Callahan Shines at New Mexico, Finding His Stride to Lay Foundation for Pro Caree
Despite graduating from Princeton University in 2013, Peter Callahan’s college track career was far from over.
With two seasons of eligibility remaining due to being sidelined by injury for long stretches as a Tiger, middle distance star Callahan was looking to compete in warmer climes.
“I had to go out of conference; it was a hard decision,” said Callahan, one of the greatest middle distance runners in Princeton history, helping the distance medley relay to the NCAA indoor title and Tiger record (9:27.74) in 2013 and setting a program record in the 1,000 (2:20.78) and graduating with top-5 times in the 800 (1:48.66), mile (3:58.76), and 4×800 (7:29.29).
“I was dealing with a lot of injuries; some of the injuries came about from training in the winter. Training out doors all year was appealing.”
The University of New Mexico (UNM) emerged as Callahan’s top choice to continue his track career and education.
“Coach Vig (Princeton cross country and distance coach Jason Vigilante) said I should look at New Mexico,” said Callahan.
“He said trust me, coach (Joe) Franklin is great. I took trips to Oregon and Texas. I went out to UNM and fell in love with the place. Coming from Chicago, I had heard of New Mexico only because of Brian Urlacher (former Chicago Bears star linebacker) going there.”
Callahan sensed that the UNM program had something good going on. “A big component was feeling good about the coach and the team dynamic,” added Callahan. “They were under the radar. It was a group of guys training really hard. They were used to having fifth year athletes so I wouldn’t be an outlier.”
Callahan ended up doing really well for the Lobos, taking fourth in the 1,500 at the NCAA outdoor championships in both 2014 and 2015.
When he first arrived, Callahan focused on training and getting totally healthy, not competing for UNM until the spring of 2014.
“My new teammates were good with it,” said Callahan. “It was interesting coming in and not racing. I didn’t do indoors, I didn’t put on a singlet until the spring. They could have said who is that guy. Since Vigs and Franklin are close friends, they were able to communicate. Coach Franklin was comfortable with me taking it slow. I got used to the altitude and the new environment. I had all fall to train, it was a re-set.”
New Mexico proved to be a good fit in the classroom as Callahan thrived in a masters program.
“Academically, I was in a graduate program,” said Callahan. “I minored in environmental sciences at Princeton. I am hoping to get a masters in science; they had good geology and environmental science. It was a small department with really good professors. I think it really set me up for what I want to do, to work in the environmental cleanup field.”
Callahan enjoyed his broadened horizons through competing in a new league.
“The Mountain West is a very strong conference; it was very weird following the Heps results and the next week being in a different conference meet,” said Callahan, who took first in the 1,500 and third in the 800 at the Mountain West outdoor championship meet in 2014 and third in the 1,500 at the meet this year.
It was very competitive, there were three All-Americans in the 1500 in 2015, three of the top eight in the NCAAs. Air Force and Boise State are really solid teams. The conference meet was held at Laramie, Wyoming, one of the highest schools in the country in terms of altitude. It is beautiful, it is a different feel, you are traveling a lot further.”
Reflecting on his performances in the NCAA outdoor championships the last two years, Callahan feels good about what he accomplished.
“I was fourth in the 1500 two years in a row; I learned a lot from each race,” said Callahan, who clocked a time of 3:39.60 in 2014 at the NCAAs and 3:55.22 this year.
“Last year, I was in a good position but I mistimed my final push. Tactical decisions have to be made quickly and deliberately. This year, I led most of the race until the last few meters, that is different for me.”
Callahan likes pushing himself against the best. “I know I belong in the field and can compete with anyone, that is the way I always look at it,” said Callahan.
“It is not just the NCAAs but racing at Heps with the high caliber athletes. It is tactical and fast; every race feels like high stakes. I remember all the teams pounding the track on the relays. It helped to have that experience.”
Experiencing success as a student at UNM, Callahan was recently named as a first-team Academic All-American and the Mountain West Men’s Outdoor Track Co-Student-Athlete of the Year, graduating with a 4.0 grade point average.
“It is not what drives me; I am genuinely interested in what I am studying,” said Callahan, who also won a number of All-Academic accolades during his time at Princeton.
“My family and brothers had good expectations for me. Princeton challenged me. I never had to compromise academics or athletics. Academics was something I was interested in. It was never a question that I was going to work hard in the classroom.”
Reflecting on his time in New Mexico, Callahan was able to retain that balance while adapting to the laid-back approach he encountered in the southwest.
“It was incredible for me,” asserted Callahan. “Just like Princeton, it was a special place for me. I came from Chicago and went to school on the east coast and there is a certain pace of life. Coming out of a very competitive atmosphere at Princeton, I took a step back. I saw that things can move at a slower pace and still work. It was nice to get a new perspective.”
Having wrapped up his college career, Callahan is looking to compete at the pro level.
“Now the plan is to transition into professional running and figure out where I would be training,” said Callahan, who ran in some races on the pro circuit in Europe this summer.
“I would like to keep going at running for the next few years. I like the middle distances, the 1,500 and mile are where my strengths lie.”
Callahan is hoping to go to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“That’s always the goal, making the Olympics is the highest achievement, that is the goal for everyone,” said Callahan.
“I am putting myself in the position, using what I learned at Princeton and New Mexico. I am 100 percent in at the moment; I am just looking for a good set up for my training.”
In Callahan’s view, his best is yet to come. “In the past few years, I have been able to get confident and handle tough workouts,” said Callahan.
“I can go out for long tempo runs and feel really good the next day. It took two years to get injury free. I can focus on training to get fast so wherever I end up, I will be better equipped.”