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Bahreini is Helping Oklahoma City University Become a Cross Country Powerhouse


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We enjoy bringing you inspirational stories about Oklahomans living healthy lives, like Arya Bahreini and the cross country team at Oklahoma City University. To read more stories like these, subscribe to our FREE weekly Email Newsletter. Oklahoma City is home to a powerhouse college cross country team, fueled by a local runner who has some lofty goals, which include running for his country in the Olympics. The men’s cross country team at Oklahoma City University is the two-time defending NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) champion. At the head of the pack is Arya Bahreini, a senior from Edmond who has twice won the NAIA marathon. Later this year he looks to make it three in a row in the marathon, while also helping the Stars to a third consecutive team title. “I’m very competitive,” the 21-year-old Bahreini says with a toothy grin that seems perfect for a young man who wants to be a dentist someday. His coach quickly identifies the reasons Bahreini is so successful. “He’s mentally tough. He’s a strong kid,” says Conor Holt, in his fifth season as coach of the men’s and women’s cross country programs at OCU. “It takes sacrifice for a college kid to go to bed at 10 or 11 and get the sleep you need to compete instead of going out, and Bahreini does that.” Working toward a goal Bahreini didn’t follow the usual path to becoming a champion runner. In his freshman year of high school at Edmond Sante Fe, Bahreini played one sport − soccer. “I was a soccer player growing up. I never ran for any reason other than soccer,” he says. Then, as a freshman, he was urged to try cross country as a break from more than a decade of playing soccer. It was evident pretty quickly that he was good. Plus, he enjoyed it. “I fell in love with running.” By his senior year Bahreini was ready to match himself against the best runners in the state. The OSU Cowboy Jamboree is one of the most prestigious cross country events in the state where the top high school runners are pitted against each other. A week before the Jamboree, Bahreini ran in a meet in which he matched up against the two-time defending state champion in the 5K. Bahreini wanted to test himself against the best and he ran well, but he lost by three seconds to the state champion from Norman High School, who hadn’t lost in two years. Still, he wasn’t discouraged. “Some thought he was beatable. I felt I could beat him,” Bahreini said in a recent interview. The next week at the Jamboree, Bahreini set his sights on doing what many thought was impossible – beating the defending champion. Bahreini planned to run hard to see if he could tire his opponent. The two of them were side-by-side after one mile of the 3.1 mile race. After two miles, Bahreini was feeling good but he decided to sit right on the shoulder of the state champion, waiting for his chance to strike. Finally, as they entered the stretch, Bahreini made his move. “With 200 meters to go, I went all out and went past him. I beat him,” Bahreini says. Bahreini didn’t lose another race his senior year, and with success like that he caught the eye of several college coaches. He was recruited by OU and several other schools. But ultimately he decided on Oklahoma City University, a private university with an enrollment of 3,023 students on a campus located in the middle of Oklahoma City. “I chose OCU because the campus was small and I felt I’d get better attention from my teachers and coaches,” Bahreini says. He doesn’t regret his decision. “It’s been the best choice I could have made,” he says. Bahreini has helped coach Holt’s teams to the last two NAIA titles, won the marathon twice, and grown as a runner and a person. “Running is about discipline and strength. [Bahreini] has the key ingredients to go on and do more in his running career,” Holt says. Now, with team success and national success accomplished, Bahreini has allowed himself to consider goals after his college career. To do that he needs to utilize his skills as a long-distance runner. Really long. “I want to run in the Olympics in the marathon and to do that I have to qualify. To qualify I have to run under 65 minutes in the half-marathon,” Bahreini explains. It’s a tough measure; the marathon is the most grueling of all races, but Bahreini has evolved into a running machine. Whereas in high school he ran 25 miles a week, in college Bahreini often logs more than 100 miles in a week. The more he runs, the more he pushes himself, the more efficient his body becomes when running long distances. Given his laser-like focus of becoming a better runner in high school and college, who wants to doubt that Bahreini can achieve his dream of being an Olympian? For now, though, he still has one final goal in his collegiate career: another team title and individual title. Oklahoma City University is now a top-ranked program in cross country The OCU Stars men’s cross country team is currently ranked No. 1 in the country and on Nov. 7th they won their third consecutive Sooner Conference title (the girls also won the conference crown). Given the fact that this program didn’t even exist six years ago, it’s an amazing accomplishment. That winning attitude stems from Coach Holt. Possessing a winning pedigree and helped by runners like Bahreini, Holt has crafted a top-notch program that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any NAIA cross country program in the nation. “I want to win,” Holt says, “so I recruit kids who have been winners in high school and who want to win at this level.” Holt took an interesting route to Oklahoma. It was by way of Indiana and Ireland. He was recruited out of Ireland and ran at the University of Oklahoma. He then coached at Purdue where he guided his runners to several championships. A man who seems to always be looking forward and driving himself and those around him, Holt gained U.S. citizenship in 2002. Coming to OCU five years ago, Holt started the program from scratch. Now they stand atop the NAIA and he has loftier ambitions. “OCU needs a track and field facility. We have 40 kids now in our cross country program. If we had a facility we could have 40 more kids. We’d be winning titles if we had a track and field program,” Coach Holt says. “As a coach, my job is to make my runners believe in themselves,” Holt says, “and I want to inspire our community and my university to believe that we can build a track and field program here that will win.” Strives to be a role model As Bahreini readies himself for the final races of his senior year he also has other goals. He wants to make a difference in his community. He will soon learn if he’s been accepted into dental school, and he plans to make his home here. “I love Oklahoma. It’s my home,” he says. Bahreini is aware that Oklahoma faces some health challenges, but he doesn’t think it’s anything that can’t be remedied. “When you exercise regularly you reduce your chance of illness, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and so on. You extend your life expectancy. I want to be a role model to my friends, my family and other people. I like motivating people. That’s part of the reason I want to be a dentist – to help people.” With the success he’s already had in his first 21 years, there’s little doubt that Bahreini will continue to achieve and inspire.

- - - - - - - - - Photo of Arya Bahreini by Dan Holmes

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