Six NCAA national championships, 24 All-America honors, two collegiate records and 18 Big Ten championships. These would be gaudy achievements for an entire program to accomplish over a five-year span. But at Michigan, Nick Willis and Nate Brannen of the men’s track and cross-country teams and Lindsey Gallo of the women’s track and cross-country teams combined to accomplish all of these feats over the past five years.

Eston Bond
Nick Willis broke the New Zealand national record in the 1,500-meter run in just his second race as a professional. (FILE PHOTO)
Eston Bond
In her first professional race, Lindsey Gallo set a personal record and placed fifth in the 1,500-meter run at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Carson, Calif. (ALEX DZIADOSZ/Daily)

Now, the trio has decided to embark on their professional careers and chase their Olympic dreams. While Gallo has completed her collegiate eligibility, Brannen will forgo one outdoor track season and Willis will forgo two outdoor seasons and one indoor season.

Although no longer competing for Michigan, the trio will continue to train in Ann Arbor. Willis and Brannen will remain under the tutelage of men’s track coach Ron Warhurst, and Brannen will serve as a volunteer assistant for the men’s program, while Gallo will continue to be trained by cross-country coach and associate track head coach Mike McGuire and serve as a volunteer assistant for the women’s program.

While Gallo received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Brannen and Willis plan on completing their degrees as they train in Ann Arbor.

During their collegiate careers, Brannen and Willis were responsible for establishing Michigan’s place as one of the nation’s premiere distance programs.

“They’ve put Michigan out there; everyone is very aware of our distance program here,” Warhurst said. “They’ve been All-Americans; they’ve been NCAA champions; and they’ve been Big Ten champions. There’s nothing much else they could do.”

McGuire was just as complimentary about Gallo’s achievements at Michigan, both on and off the track.

“She has had as storied of a career as anyone we have had,” McGuire said. “As significant as anything she has accomplished on the track is what she accomplished in the classroom. She has left her mark on the program for others to pursue.”

All three have signed equipment sponsorship contracts with Reebok that will last through the 2008 Summer Olympics.

“I think that (Brannen and Willis) are going to help me achieve some great things,” Gallo said. “It will be cool having all three of us wearing Reebok and training in Ann Arbor.”

Brannen decided on Reebok because of the security it gives him for the next three years.

“They offered the best deal for the longest term that is pretty good financially,” Brannen said. “It was something I couldn’t refuse.”

The trio follows in the footsteps of Michigan alumni Kevin Sullivan and Katie McGregor and volunteer assistant Tim Broe by hiring Global Athletics & Marketing, Inc. to represent them. In addition to the obvious Michigan connection, each of the athletes cited different reasons for joining the Boston-based firm.

“They are going to get me into the meets that I need to get into,” Gallo said.

“They have no history of involvement with drugs,” Willis said.

“(Warhurst) is pretty good friends with Mark Wetmore (the company founder),” Brannen said. “I feel comfortable working with him.”

Although each of the athletes has the same representative and equipment sponsor, Brannen does not feel that their training relationships will change.

“It just happened that we signed with the same agent and shoe company,” Brannen said. “We have been teammates for the last four years and Willis and I have been training partners and have traveled Europe together. Nothing is going to change other than what we have now.”

Though their careers are just in their infancy, Gallo and Willis have already experienced tremendous success at the professional level.

At the U.S. Track and Field Championships in Carson, Calif., Gallo finished in fifth place in the 1,500-meter run with a personal best time of 4:08.6 — 1.34 seconds faster than her previous best.

Willis has competed in two races since becoming a professional.

In his first race as a professional, Willis won the 1,500-meter run at the Josef Odlozila Memorial meet in Prague with a time of 3:37.01. Then while competing in front of a crowd of more than 70,000 at the TDK Golden League Meet in Paris, Willis set a New Zealand record in the event with time of 3:32.4 en route to a sixth-place finish.

Brannen, who is recovering from the injury her suffered at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships, will run his first race as a professional at the American Milers Club High Performance Series meet in Bloomington on July 9. He will treat the race as a tune-up for the Canadian Track and Field Championships in Winnipeg, Manitoba on July 15-17.

All three athletes have their short-term sights set on qualifying for and competing in the World Championships in Athletics in Helsinki, Finland.

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