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McNeese State cross country runner David Rooney went through multiple family tragedies within 18 months. He credits running for helping him get through this adversity, which includes losing his brother to cancer and his mother to suicide. (Special to the American Press)

McNeese State cross country runner David Rooney went through multiple family tragedies within 18 months. He credits running for helping him get through this adversity, which includes losing his brother to cancer and his mother to suicide. (Special to the American Press)

McNeese runner Rooney shone brightest in dark hours

Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 12:53 PM

By Joe Conway / Special to the American Press

Running has always helped David Rooney get through the difficult times and life in general.

During the last 18 months the McNeese State University runner needed that perspective more than any other time in his life as he battled unimaginable personal tragedy, losing his brother Colm to bone cancer and his mother Anne to a tragedy within a six-month period in 2011.

December 2011 was the low point for David and his dad Seamus. Colm had passed away on June 12 after a long battle with bone cancer. On Dec. 15, his mother Anne Rooney took her own life.

In the aftermath of his mother’s death, Rooney courageously went on the Liveline RTE Radio program hosted by Joe Duffy to advocate for better mental health services in Ireland. He talked about the depths of depression that had beset his mother and the lack of health care services which he said contributed to the tragedy.

Rooney now talks candidly about having to move on.

“Running has helped me get through everything — life in general,” said David Rooney, 24, a member of Ireland’s Raheny Shamrocks and helped Ireland win European U23 cross country gold in 2010. “The last year has been pretty horrific. Being out here in America has helped. I don’t have any memory of Colm or my mother being here — that in a way helps me. When I am at home in Ireland, it is very tough.”

In Ireland, his dad Seamus deals with his loss and loneliness in an empty house in Donabate in North County Dublin. Seamus is a 12-time veteran of the Dublin Marathon.

“In the months after Colm died, running got me out of bed,” Seamus said. “If I didn’t get out and run, I would just feel worse.”

Seamus flew to McNeese State to meet up with David in Nov. 2012. Father and son journeyed from there together to Louisville, Kent., for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

At the NCAAs, Seamus scampered from vantage point to vantage point to see his son finish seventh at the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships in 29:21.3 and become the first McNeese State runner to earn All-American honors in cross country.

David Rooney was also the top Irish finisher. Florida State’s Breandan O’Neill was the next best of the Irish in 28th (29:52.7) and Providence College’s Sarah Collins of Cork was 10th in the women’s race (19:50.7 for 6K).

“(Winning All-American honors) was a great way to end my cross country career at McNeese State,” he said. “The top three — 13-minute 5000 meter guys — got away as expected. Then, there were another three guys about 100 meters ahead of the chasing group I was in and they held that gap. The last mile we closed, but they held us off.”

Seamus had his son’s race strategy mapped out.

“Go out fast or there’s no chance of finishing in the top ten.”

A father’s instincts were right on the mark and his son delivered a virtuoso running performance.

“It was like being at the Europeans all over again. I was very apprehensive because it all depends on what kind of start you get. It was quite important that David was up there from the very start,” Seamus said. “Once I saw him right there in the top 20, let’s see if he can hold on to that position.”

A hard-charging Rooney never wavered during the race,

“(David) ran really smart. It was a remarkable race to say the least. Coming from McNeese, a small-type program, not a lot of people knew who he was,” said Sligo’s Brendon Gilroy, McNeese’s head track and field coach since 2007.

David Rooney is no longer an unknown in NCAA circles and this performance builds on his reputation as a great racer. Raheny Shamrocks coach Dick Hooper, a three-time Olympic marathoner, recognized David Rooney’s potential the first time he saw Rooney run in 2002.

For the past five years, Hooper has watched Rooney mostly from afar.

“David is a talent. The manner in which he performs is exciting … the surges all that stuff. He is not obsessed by the clock or the Garmin or restricted by all that stuff which is very exciting — so many athletes are restricted by those gadgets. David isn’t. What you see is what you get. He is one runner. If you cheer him on during a race you will get a great reaction. He will go from 10th to 1st. He is so courageous,” Hooper said.

David Rooney showed that racing acumen at the NCAAs, running a 4:36 last mile as he closed on the lead pack towards the finish. Rooney always believed he belonged on the NCAA stage and in the face of great personal adversity he delivered big time on that promise.

“What he has been through, he has shown remarkable resiliency,” Hooper said.

• This article was published in the Irish Runner 2013 Yearbook.

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