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Becoming a Marine redefines ‘hard’ for senior track runner Cody Henning

As the beauty of spring slowly but surely paints the landscape of the Missoula valley, productive indoor activities go right out the window. Of the possible outdoor activities to choose from, running 400-meter sprints in the blazing hot sun would probably reside at the bottom of the list for most. But University of Montana sprinter Cody Henning holds many things in lower esteem than sprint workouts. Relay workouts are not hard. Cody Henning knows what hard is.


Story by Colter Nuanez | April 8, 2009
Montana Kaimin

Henning came to the University of Montana by way of Whitefish High School where he was a six-time state champion sprinter. He continued to receive decoration at UM as he was an All-Big Sky performer four times by the time his senior season was looming.

But something was missing from Henning’s life. He had always embraced a challenge. One morning he woke up and decided it was time for a change.
Henning looked into joining the armed service right after high school, but the allure of a free education and the continuation of his track career steered him toward Missoula. The military always seemed like a unique opportunity, however.

Henning explored what each branch of the armed forces had to offer. He decided he wanted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps and enter Officer Candidate School.

“It’s the hardest program to get into, the hardest to graduate from. And I really like challenges, seeing how far I can go,” Henning said.

The 400-meters is among the most grueling events in all of track and field. But sprinting at full speed for 50 seconds paled in comparison to the 11-week hell Henning went through when he arrived in Quantico, Va.

Gone were the simple things in Henning’s life. Little things like going on a hike or listening to music or just going out with friends ceased. Such minute details were major mental obstacles for Henning.

“As far as being mentally tough, this (track) doesn’t even come close to the Marine Corps,” Henning said. “It doesn’t even skim the surface. They break you down to your lowest point, lower than you ever thought possible. Then they build you back up.”

When Aug. 8, 2008 arrived and it was time for Henning and his fellow soldiers to graduate, over 40 percent of his class did not complete the training. But to the man, even those who did not complete the challenge, every person who attempted OCS came out a better man, said Henning.
In order to receive commission and have a chance to be an officer in the U.S.M.C., candidates must complete OCS and attain bachelor’s degrees as well. With this in mind, Henning returned to UM to complete his degree in exercise science and exhaust his eligibility in track.

With only a few weeks off between graduation from OCS and indoor track season training, Henning said his body was in shock, but the freedoms afforded civilians were a welcome change.

“In OCS, we were just constantly physically, emotionally and mentally busted down to nothing at all times,” Henning said. “They strip you of your individuality. Me and I do not exist. We had hardly any sleep, hardly any food. We were run down, stressed out and sick all the time. So when you come back here, you have freedom. You can train at your own pace, you can eat healthy. The Marines just made this whole sport easier than it used to be.”

The daily grind of being a Division I athlete of any kind is a significant one, but UM sprints coach Harry Clark said it is often overlooked how grueling a sport track and field really is. The individual aspect and the lack of contact contribute to this sentiment, but Clark and Henning both agree that the Marine has a new definition of pain. No longer do nagging injuries slow him down. His drive to improve is omnipresent.

“He learned training doesn’t hurt,” said Clark, who is in his eighth season at UM. “When he was younger, everything used to bother him, he used to be hurt all the time. Now, not so much. His mental discipline is much improved.”

Henning has a new view on pain.

“You just aren’t afraid of pain anymore,” he said. “You can go out and work out ‘til you are sick, or work out until you break.”

One transition that contributed to the shock Henning described was the vast variance between training to be a soldier and training to be a sprinter. During the 11 weeks in Virginia, Henning ran long distances, trained on obstacle courses, hiked mountains — all things counterproductive to building the fast-twitch muscles sprinters covet.

“The summer training he went through was probably about twice as hard as anything we do, probably even more than that,” Clark said. “We are really working on speed with him. He has a ton of endurance from this summer. Once it all clicks together, it’s going to be dynamite.”

Clark thinks that dynamite could, and should, translate into a Big Sky Conference championship. He is encouraged with Henning’s early season production. Henning placed second in the 200 at last week’s Al Manuel Invitational and ran a leg on the 4X400 team that also placed second.

If Henning is to win a conference title in the 400M, he will most likely have to beat Montana State standout Dan Johnson. But if the conference title comes down to a time similar to the one Johnson ran on Saturday (47.71 seconds), then the victor would more than likely also surpass the Regional Qualifying standard of 47.2 seconds. Clark and Henning both think it is an attainable goal if the senior continues to improve day in and day out.

Regardless of how far Henning can extend his track career, the end creeps closer by the day. He will graduate in the spring with a degree in exercise science. Following graduation, his options are numerous. He is engaged to Katlin Anderson, who is in her final semester of physical therapy school. Once he has his bachelor’s degree, he can accept his commission as an officer and continue his military service or decline and possibly follow Katlin wherever she may go. He has a year to decide whether he wants to be a soldier or continue living as a civilian.

Either way he is a changed man. Nothing ails him, nothing stresses him, nothing causes him pain. He knows the true definitions now. No matter what path Henning takes, he will forever be a product of what it means to be one of the Few, the Proud, the Marines.

“Everything I thought was hard before is no longer hard after the Marine Corps,” said Henning. “Morally I am a better person. OCS opens your eyes to bigger things in life. I wouldn’t take it back for the world.”

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