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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Chasing the mark

Photo by Robert O’Brien

Sophomore Caden Norris rounds the first corner of the track during the 800m race at the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.

Three years ago, Caden Norris would say you were crazy if you told him he would be running alongside olympian Craig Engels.
In high school, Norris painted a picture of Engels, and the painting still has a home in his college residence. Today, the sophomore sports Engels’ signature mullet and mustache combination. But, having the opportunity to compete with a track and field idol is just one of the boxes that Norris has checked off in his collegiate career — a career that was anything but guaranteed.
At Midland Christian, Norris was a jack of all trades, lettering all four years in cross country, track and basketball. He was decorated in each of these pursuits, but district and regional crowns in the 800-meter during his junior year were an indicator of his future in track.
Texas A&M was always the ideal spot for Norris. His older brother is a member of the Corps of Cadets, and said he was sold on the environment after watching the Aggies’ dramatic seven-overtime victory against LSU in Kyle Field in 2018. Whether he was a member of the track team or not, he was dead set on being an Aggie.
Regardless, Norris was resolute to earn a spot on the team.
“I told myself, ‘no regrets,’” Norris said. “I just put my trust in the Lord. If he wants me at A&M, it’s going to happen.”
Norris began constantly reaching out to the A&M track coaching staff, making his interactions with staff members a daily routine. Eventually, the high school senior was given a tangible goal: 1:53 in the 800-meter. This, he was told by A&M athletic assistant Chris Harrell, would earn him a tryout spot.

Harrell replies to many athletes throughout the year after they inquire about joining the track team. Harrell serves as a gatekeeper by enforcing the team’s intense time requirements to inquiring athletes. While Norris’’ times did not initially meet these hefty standards, Harrell recalls the Midland-native was notably determined to stay in contact with the program.
“Most of the time, you never hear back from people again,” Harrell said. “Certain people, especially those that want to come to school here anyway, are more inquisitive and keep the conversation going. Anytime [Norris] emailed, I responded to him.”
In the first meeting of his senior spring season, Norris clocked 1:56. Still three
seconds short of his goal, Norris’ hurdles were just beginning, as this would be the last time he would compete at Midland Christian. All of his future meets were canceled due to COVID-19.
Norris, however, continued to train. When the tracks were closed, he would measure the distance on the road and run a straight 800 meters. If an opportunity to race presented itself, he was going to be ready.
In August 2020, the training proved its worth, as Norris attended the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Satellite Beach, Fla. After months of biding his time, the Midland native had the chance to leave it all out on the asphalt.
As the moment approached, Norris recalled coming to terms with the stakes at hand.
“It was stressful,” Norris said. “I was thinking, ‘This is the end of my track career. I either run fast enough or I’m done.’ I prayed that I would have my best performance; if I ran 1:54, I was ready to be happy that I gave it my all.”
The gun sounded, and Norris took off.
One minute, 52.31 seconds.
Less than a week before he was scheduled to make the move to College Station, he received the call he had been waiting for. His performance not only granted him the tryout spot he had anticipated, but he was invited to join the squad as a preferred walk-on.
Like Harrell, assistant track coach Milton Mallard was in contact during Norris’ process of walking on. Once he had achieved the required time, Mallard said it was evident that Norris’ attitude would be a great fit at A&M.
“Caden is an upbeat young man,” Mallard said. “He is very likable and very friendly. He was excited about the opportunity to prove that he had the tools to continue his career in athletics. We were excited that he chose Texas A&M.”
Before the feeling of accomplishment had fully set in, Norris faced another hurdle. While attending a routine physical, he was told that his troponin levels were abnormally high, putting him at risk for a heart attack. Further tests brought undesirable results — Norris was unable to run.
He was trapped indoors, unable to run until he was medically cleared. Norris had transformed from a four-year varsity athlete in multiple sports into someone who doctors advised to avoid movement in general. After his uncommon path to the collegiate level, he met with yet another setback.
Norris was determined to resolve the issue and get back on track. He received an ultrasound, but was still not medically cleared. While he was initially discouraged, he found a way to see the positives in the situation.
“Looking back on it, I am thankful that it happened,” Norris said. “It allowed me to grow a lot with the Lord and I realized what major I wanted to pursue. When I was not running, I became interested in learning about foods that are good for your heart, and I realized that I have a passion for nutrition.”
Following a trip to Houston for a cardiac MRI, he finally received the green light and was allowed to continue competing. After six months of inactivity, Norris was finally free to run.
After months without collegiate training, he made his debut at the Willie Williams Classic in Tucson, Ariz., on March 19, 2021, with a time of 1:53:31 in the 800-meter. His times saw gradual improvement throughout the 2021 outdoor season, highlighted by a time of 1:50.84 at the LSU Alumni Gold meet.
After what proved to be a rocky freshman campaign, Norris was ready to bounce back in 2022. He had an entire offseason to train, and that was just what the doctor ordered.
He started the season off with a bang at the Wooo Pig Classic, running 2:25.91 in the 1,000-meter, the 11th fastest mark in A&M history, and he was not done signing the maroon and white record books. He earned the 12th fastest 800-meter mark in school history at the Texas Tech Open with a time of 1:49.35. Less than two weeks later, he tallied the school’s ninth best run with a time of 1:48.55 at the Music City Challenge.
As the primary coach of the 800-meter runners, Mallard has seen Norris’ journey from a different point of view than most. The coach said he is excited to see Norris continue to reap the benefits of his work.
“For me to continue to watch him progress and get a little bit better each time he goes to compete is exciting, especially given our philosophy here at Texas A&M,” Mallard said. “I love seeing young people succeed.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article contained incorrect information regarding Harrell’s role in team roster management.

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