A testament to perseverance and belief, Landen Liu, Bethel’s freshman record-breaking sprinter, tells his story.
By Sebastian Studier
Just how fast is Landen Liu? On Jan. 28, he ran 200 meters in 22.02 seconds (which roughly translates to a springing speed of 24.6 miles per hour). The fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt, ran 200 meters in 19.19 seconds at the 2009 World Championships. Bolt may have a slight advantage here, but Liu isn’t far behind.
Liu is off to a promising start at Bethel. He won MIAC Men’s Indoor Track Athlete of the Week two weeks in a row after setting Bethel Men’s Track and Field Program records in both the 200-meter and 60-meter dash while competing in his first two collegiate meets on Jan. 21 and 28.
Liu did not see himself as “gifted” in athletics as a child, he even asked his mom, Jackie, why he wasn’t as good as everyone else. In response, she grabbed him by the arm and said,“God made your body perfectly for everything he has planned for it. He can’t use any other body than this one.”
As one of the biggest influences in Liu’s life, Jackie believes that she was able to connect with her son due to her coaching career and background in the running community. Jackie was a track athlete herself at Bethel during her college years, a position that Liu would ultimately follow suit in.
The world of sports entered Liu’s life in second grade when he played baseball before transitioning to cross country and eventually track in middle school. It wasn’t until freshman year that Liu knew he had something special in his athletic ability.
As a freshman, Liu was competing at the section meets for Centennial High School and felt nervous before competing.
“I was really stressed about my time, and then I just surrendered it to God and was like, alright God, if you want me in this sport, it will be through Your will,” Liu said.
Liu ended up running sections in the 200 and made the finals, hitting a personal record by a half second before coming in fifth in his section. He was one of the fastest runners in the state that year. It was at this moment that Liu knew he was fast.
Liu’s success was then challenged.
During his junior season, Liu fractured his vertebrae during his section meets and then made it worse when he ran the 100-meter dash at the state meet. It got to the point where warm-ups were too painful.
Liu made it to the finals in the 200-meter dash, and while broken down with an injury, simply decided to go for it. The race began and Liu found himself 15 meters behind the rest of the group at the 100-meter mark before hunting the other runners down, and winning his state title only by a hair.
“That’s God right there, I can’t take credit for that,” Liu said.
Now a state champion, Liu believed his success went to his head “big time.”
Pushing through an injury came at a cost, as Liu would go on to lose his senior season in order to recover.
“It really took me to lose my senior year for me to reflect on who I was becoming,” Liu said. “[I started] to remember that I do this for God and not myself.”
Throughout this time in Liu’s life, his mom Jackie believes that, although he lost a season on the track and an opportunity to defend his state title, the experience helped him gain perspective on his life outside of athletics.
“It’s more of a relationship of who he is in God’s eyes than who he is in a track person’s eyes,” Jackie said.“It’s great to have titles, it’s great to run, it’s great to have accomplishments, but knowing that even if you didn’t do that, you’re still a child of God.”
Ongoing hamstring and back injuries kept Liu off the track while it felt like his “body was falling apart.” He visited a total of four doctors, all telling him they could not help. In his head, Liu entertained the possibility that he might never run again.
Rather than closing himself off during his senior season, Liu stayed with the team and helped.
John Kretschmer is a former assistant coach of Liu’s at Centennial High School. He remembers Liu showing up to practice every day to keep his teammates organized and to give them advice despite his inability to compete. During this season, the sprinting coach of the team was a teacher whose schedule caused him to show up 40 minutes late. Liu took it upon himself to be the leader of that group before the sprinting coach showed up.
“He’s very modest,” Kretschmer said. “He would reach out to anybody at any time to help.”
Entering the summer before college, his injury didn’t get better.
Liu took PSEO classes at Bethel during his senior year of high school, but his involvement with the university came even before then. During his junior year of high school, Liu came to tour Bethel and met with Bethel track and field coach Andrew Rock, who would go on to begin training with Liu that winter and form a tightly-knit relationship.
“In recruiting, for me, it’s finding kids that have a high level of ability but also fit the community and culture of Bethel, which I think is really unique and hard to find,” Rock said.
Knowing what he knew about him and his family and the value they place on Christian higher education, Rock felt that he had to work hard to connect Liu to Bethel and build a relationship with him and his family.
Jackie knows that Liu is in good hands with Rock at Bethel.
“You can’t really pick a college based on a coach, but with this, it was in a perfect package with a bow in this great atmosphere and this coach who’s amazing,” Jackie said.
With Liu’s mom being a Bethel alum herself, Liu would always hear about Jackie’s experiences at Bethel. After one month of training with Rock, Liu knew he wanted to come to Bethel not only because of the “super nice” campus and Biokinetics program but also because of the personal relationship he built with Rock.
As Liu’s fall semester began at Bethel, he had to stop training because it felt like his hamstrings were going to tear every time he ran. As the months went by, Liu started to doubt that he was going to have an indoor season and, once again, began to doubt that he would ever run again.
“The entire time I was just being patient and working on myself through my faith and deconstructing my pride,” Liu said.
What happened next for Liu in October changed his life. As Landen was praying and searching for answers, he heard God speak to him.
“God gave me a date. It was November 14th,” Lui said.
Liu texted his mom and told her to save this date. The weeks went by and multiple trips to different doctors ended with no solutions. A trip to a spine specialist resulted in Liu being told that he had “chronic back pain, but we don’t know why.” The specialist recommended Liu to another specialist, Dr. Josh Sandell, at Synthetics.
Liu went to see Dr. Josh Sandell, a sports medicine specialist who works with pro athletes, and he used physical therapy to get Liu back into running shape. The day that he went in was Nov. 14.
Now, Liu is breaking all-time Bethel records and his former coach Kretschmer is not surprised. He knew Liu’s time was coming.
“I could see him continuing to succeed,” Kretschmer said. “I don’t see him being a one-year-wonder.”
Coach Rock thinks that Liu challenges him as a coach in a positive and productive way. Rock aims to always be learning and growing as a coach in order to make Liu the best runner he can be.
“I wouldn’t want him to change in terms of his determination and fight that he has to be the best he can be,” Rock said.
Jackie is encouraged by how much Liu has become a stronger man of God.
“What we do isn’t going to last for anything, but who we are in [God] is going to last forever,” Jackie said. “I think that seeing [Liu] grow in that faith is so powerful as a mom.”
Liu believes that everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for him.
“I’m going to do this for God and I’m going to do it through him,” Liu said. “I’m back and I’m just thankful to be competing and giving the glory to God”.
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