Every student athlete listed on the Lehigh Athletics roster spends a significant amount of time practicing and playing his or her sport, but few dedicate as much of their time as Derek Gaul. When some students decided to drop their athletic pursuits upon entering college, Gaul began his career at Lehigh and continued to compete in both football and track.
As a senior, Gaul has completed four seasons of Lehigh football as a wide receiver. He was recruited to play football, but in his sophomore year he decided to rekindle his high school passion for track and field.
“Coach Coen wasn’t thrilled when I first told him I wanted to run track,” Gaul said. “He didn’t want me to get injured. Once I had made my decision though, he was very supportive and would always ask me how meets were going. It was nice to have the support of my head coach to allow me to compete in both.”
Gaul’s career at Lehigh has been successful. As a junior, he started two games and appeared in all 11 games as a wide receiver. In regards to track, he was a state champion in long-jump prior to enrolling at Lehigh.
Gaul didn’t hesitate for a moment when he said which sport he preferred.
“Football,” he said. “It’s not even a question. I love the intense atmosphere, there’s nothing like it.”
In particular, Gaul is drawn to football because of its focus on team strength. The senior athlete noted that the sports are about as different as you can get. In football, the entire team can suffer from one player’s mistake, but in track the individual alone is responsible for the outcome of his or her event, with the exception of relays.
With fall football practices running from 4:15 to 7:15 p.m., Gaul estimates that the Mountain Hawks average about 20 hours of work a week during the season. He said he enjoyed the experience of a football team.
“If you go through pain with people, you grow tighter,” Gaul said.
As a runner, Gaul works through demanding practices, which last up to a maximum of two hours. He competes in the 60 meter indoor sprint as well as his field event, the long jump. Gaul said he finds comfort in sweating through practice with close teammates. For this reason, Gaul finds the spring season for track more difficult than football because he is closer with fewer members of the track team.
With the majority of his time being consumed by sports, he said it can be difficult to also focus on academics. A finance major, Gaul is enrolled for a fifth year for a semester in the fall of 2015 to meet the academic requirements for graduation. In his final semester at Lehigh, Gaul will not participate in athletics of any kind.
Gaul’s passion for athletics shines through in all of his actions. He has no regrets about his career at Lehigh and believes his dedication to two sports was the right decision for him.
“Struggling academically was worth it for me,” Gaul said. “I don’t mind having to stay another semester. The ability I have is a blessing and I wouldn’t have wanted to waste that.”
When divided between two major time commitments such as track and football, one might expect teammates to speculate on where Gaul’s loyalties lie. This however, was not the case for the well-balanced senior. Teammates of his were eager to share their admiration for his dedication to two sports.
“As his teammate and roommate I have seen, first hand, the balancing act that Derek has had to go through between football and track,” senior offensive lineman Ned Daryoush said. “The spring semester in particular is extremely difficult to manage, but somehow Derek manages to be not only present at all team functions, but to be a contributing member as well.”
Gaul has received a substantial amount of support from teammates and coaches alike. He cites this strong network as a reason for his success.
“Coach Matt on the track team has helped me through so many things,” Gaul said. “Last preseason, in January, I almost didn’t come back to track because of grades. Coach Matt actually called (my mom) and convinced her to let me do track.”
In regard to Gaul’s post-graduation plans for athletics, he wants to continue training for both sports but has not figured out the logistics yet. His goal is to someday compete in the Olympic trials for long jump.
“I grew up loving sports,” he said. “My family supports me and doesn’t want to see me stop doing something I love so much. All my coaches support me as well. They see how much I appreciate all the effort and coaching that they put in. I’m not wasting the skills that God gave me, I’m applying myself. The joy that athletics brings me keeps me going.”