The 2011 Ivy League Cross Country Heptagonal Championship may be remembered most by those at Dartmouth as the day that Ethan Shaw and Abbey D'Agostino battled through a snowstorm and muddy conditions to claim individual titles.
   
Phil Royer remembers it differently.
   
He remembers looking up at his friend, roommate and training partner standing atop the podium and wondering what could've been.
   
"Seeing Ethan go out and race well was great because I know how humble he is and how hard he works. He really deserved it," the Portsmouth, R.I., native said.  
   
"But at the same time, I felt I deserved to be up there as well. That was one of the biggest motivating factors for me coming back, thinking 'that should've been me right there with him.'"
   
Royer, who had trained feverishly all summer alongside Shaw, was hampered by a nagging foot injury all season, but pushed through it to race week in and week out for the Big Green.
   
That injury stopped being just an inconvenience on that cold and snowy day in late October and became a metaphorical brick wall, something he could no longer overcome.
   
Midway through the race, Royer pulled himself out, unable to finish.
   
His indoor and outdoor track seasons were the next casualties of the pain.
   
"I was running injured last fall, which was the reason I was set back for so long. I went out and tried to run on it causing me to miss indoor and outdoor," Royer said, looking back on his decision to continue running late into the cross country season.
   
"It was a dumb decision, but I wanted to help the team. I guess it probably ended up hurting them."
   
Months went by and Royer watched his teammates from the sidelines. He sometimes traveled to track meets by himself to watch when he was unable to go with the team on the bus.

For a runner to be hampered by a leg or foot injury is like a pitcher in baseball with elbow or shoulder issues, it's not something easily overcome and removes the individual from the activity he loves.

For Royer, two seasons were more than enough.

"I've spent hours in the Alter G, which has been really helpful in my recovery," the senior said of one of the tools implemented by the new Dartmouth Peak Performance (DP2) initiative created to help benefit the entire student-athlete experience both on and off the field of competition. "I know it's not an inexpensive machine to buy, but it really helped me get back to a level where I could train again."

So with help and support from athletic trainers, doctors, teammates, coaches and family, Royer returned to the Big Green this fall.

By the time the 2012 Heps came around, Royer had been flying under the radar. He scored points on a weekly basis, but was never the team's top performer as junior Will Geoghegan had emerged from the long shadow of Ethan Shaw to usurp the role of lead runner.

With that level of anonymity attached and the thoughts still lingering in his head about his last time on this course, Royer set out on an 8K he will not soon forget.

"It's never hard to get motivated when running at Heps because you're racing guys you know and have gone up against for years, which makes for some great rivalries, he said.

Just 23:57.6 after the gun sounded, Royer crossed the finish line, accomplishing something he had been unable to do a year prior.

And what was different in those nearly 24 minutes of running? Royer had gone from injured and unable to compete for the better part of nine months to a First Team All-Ivy runner.

He finished sixth.

Royer had bested the efforts of more than 80 other top competitors from the other Ivy League teams.

More importantly, he had escaped the yearlong nightmare that had been the memories of the previous fall.

He stood alongside Geoghegan on the podium as the two teammates finished fifth and sixth, respectively, representing the Green and White and helping them to a third-place team finish.

However, standing there on that podium was more than just overcoming a year's struggle with injury. As he stood beside Geoghegan and received his award, Royer felt as if he was validating Herbert Chase Head Coach Barry Harwick's decision made more than  four years before.

"I came to Dartmouth for a two-week squash camp over the summer before my senior year and fell in love with the place before I ever even thought about competing here," Royer said.

"Running had just started beginning to go really well for me during my junior and senior year and it became clear that this was going to be the sport I could excel in," said the former high school soccer player than had no cross country experience prior to his arrival in Hanover.

He made his way from the squash courts located in the second floor of the Berry Sports Center to Harwick's office a short walk down the hall.

"I talked with him about running and began to realize that I was good at outdoor track in the context of my private school league, but he had champions of public school leagues coming and were 20 or 30 seconds faster than I was.

"Barry took a chance on me, on the potential that I could one day be good," Royer humbly admitted. "But once I got here and trained with guys better than me, I found I was able to match their intensity and move up."

Even as a top Ivy League runner now, it's clear that Royer still wants to prove to people he has what it takes to be a champion.

 "No other Division I school even gave me the time of day. Barry is the reason I'm here and never wrote me off when I was injured. He asked when I was ready to get back to where I was and then followed with wanting to know when I would get beyond that and be even better."
He's back now and has clearly never been better. (Pat Salvas)

NOTE: This article was written for the November issue of the Big Green Sporting News.