Four years ago, Lehigh senior Tyler French had run only three seasons of cross country, competed in two seasons of track and field, one season of indoor track and saw himself playing soccer in college.
Now, in his senior year of college, he is a top finisher and a team leader on the men’s cross country team.
This season, French led Lehigh at both the Lehigh Invitational and the dual meet against Lafayette.
Yet, French said his success in the sport has not come without challenges.
French said he had a stress fracture in his knee his freshman year and had a strained hamstring his sophomore year, but has been healthy since then, which has allowed him to improve as a runner.
Coming to Lehigh with very little running experience, French said he looked to the upperclassmen for guidance when it came to personal development and progression.
“When I was a freshman we had Sean Brown on the team who had won the Patriot League Championship in the 1500 and Kip Yegon who won the IC4A Steeple on the team,” French said. “Seeing these guys and seeing what their training habits were like and how they carried themselves was great for me to learn from.”
After seeing the impact this mentorship had on himself and his performance, French said it is his job to set that same standard and be the mentor for the current underclassmen, alongside fellow senior Connor Melko and the other team captains.
Sophomore Kevin Harvey said French’s hard work, discipline, leadership and dedication do not go unnoticed.
“He’s one of the hardest workers on the team,” Harvey said. “We have some kids with a lot of natural talent and while I’m sure he has a lot of it, he puts in a lot of work and is always one of the last people to leave.”
French attributes his success and development as a runner to coach Todd Etters and his coaching philosophy, which focuses on a four-year progression.
“You can be a productive team member and can contribute to the team as a freshman, but he really wants you over your four years to grow,” French said. “He won’t hit you when you’re young with a lot of mileage or a lot of pressure, he just expects you to grow into your role, and as you become a junior or senior, then the expectation is on you to set the standard and be the guy scoring points.”
Along with mentorship and coaching, French attributes his success to consistency.
French said much of that consistency was lost when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but he continued to focus on his training and learned a lot during that time.
French said knowing that races are rare opportunities and that you only get so many of them gave him and the team a new perspective. He said he thinks they all appreciate running more because of that period of inconsistency.
“Running every day is a grind when you don’t have a competition to look forward to,” French said. “It’s really hard to keep your mileage consistent and hit your workouts hard and everything when you don’t have a race to look forward to.”
Sophomore Aidan Lynch said French has also served as a role model and set the tone for the underclassmen on the team.
“He’ll listen and he says the right things,” Lynch said. “He’ll also be the first one out there and lead the pack through a workout every single rep if he has to.”
French said the team has big goals for the season. He said they’d like to be top four at the Patriot League meet, which means he and some of his teammates are going to have to try to be all-league runners.
Looking to the spring, French hopes to stay healthy so he can perform to his best ability as he finishes cross country and enters his last track and field season in the spring.
“I’ve been saying, almost since I met him, senior year Tyler French is going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Lynch said.