Nate Sloan has battled adversity for the majority of his college career. So on what could have been his last day of it, he was going to take some chances.
The Hampton graduate challenged — and nearly defeated — indoor track and field national champion Yared Nuguse of Notre Dame at the ACC outdoor championships in the 1,500-meter run May 18, losing by less than two seconds with a time of 3 minutes, 43.05 seconds. The fifth-year senior finished second, earning All-ACC honors.
Pitt coach Alonzo Webb was impressed — but hardly surprised — Sloan elected to leave the pack and push the champion.
“When I saw the race unfold, I thought it was a bold strategy,” Webb said. “But I liked it. I like people who challenge the status quo. Fearless people. He was fearless. He stayed right with him.
“Most people would fear that. If you watched the race, most of them did fear that. Nate had the confidence in himself. He said, ‘It’s my last year. I’m going to roll the dice.’ ”
Perhaps that mentality was forged from the difficulty Sloan has faced getting his footing in athletics since his freshman year. Having battled multiple injuries and with four distance coaches, plus a switch from long to middle distance, the tough times brought resolve that helped Sloan achieve success at the end of his career.
He missed all or parts of every season with various stress fractures.
“Through the ups and downs, trusting the process and trusting my coaches’ training, I just continued to work hard through it,” he said. “If you keep working hard at it, the results come. Just stay positive through the changes.”
The results were impressive. Sloan also finished sixth in the 800 with a time of 1:51.62, earning his second All-ACC honor of the day and a trip to NCAA Regionals on May 23-25 in Jacksonville, Fla., for both events. His team points helped Pitt finish a program-best fourth overall at the event.
It hasn’t been a steady climb for Sloan since his Hampton days, where he was a cross country and track state qualifier his junior and senior years, finishing fourth in the state as a senior in 2014.
“I think my biggest thing in high school track is my friends as teammates,” he said. “I still keep in touch with them now. That’s the big thing that helped me stay with it. The culture that developed in high school.”
Sloan remains friends with Hampton track alums who went on to compete in college, including Gina Alm (Penn) and Dylan Ruefle (IUP). Likewise, running might have come naturally to him more than most. His parents, Roger and Patty, were hurdlers at IUP.
Still, Sloan, at first, was intent on exploring options outside the city. But the visit to Pitt’s campus and the team atmosphere convinced him it was the right place. As it turns out, the traditional values of his hometown were always close to him when adversity hit.
“I think most people it would have discouraged them, and they’d have given up,” Webb said. “But being a Western Pa. guy, what we look for all the time is a blue-collar kid. I think what Nate epitomizes is that work ethic.”
Sloan has been through four distance coaches during his tenure. The lack of consistency can be inconvenient, no matter how good each instructor is at his or her position.
“It’s tough to do that,” he said. “Every coach has their own kind of training philosophy, and I’ve had numerous injuries.”
However, his best attribute shines through as a distance runner with unusual foot speed and a knack for a strong finish.
“The strength he has from distance and his foot speed is not normally there for a distance runner,” Webb said. “I think that worked in his favor, and he ran with it, no pun intended.
“At the end of a race, he has a kick that a lot of middle-distance runners don’t have. He has another gear he can go to. I think if you watched the (1,500) race at the ACC this year, he just rolled the dice.”
Now he’ll have a chance at regionals to become the first distance runner in quite some time to represent Pitt men’s track at nationals in Austin, Texas.
“That’s why I’m here a fifth year,” he said of his injury history. “But going through the changes and adapting really makes you self-evaluate, push through and realize you can come out the other side and have success.”
Sloan, who earned a degree in civil engineering, plans to move to Denver at the end of the summer to start his first full-time job as a field engineer for a general contractor.