Cross Country

Colin Bennie rediscovers brotherhood in camaraderie at Syracuse

Liam Kennedy | Contributing Photographer

Colin Bennie will be a key runner for Syracuse this season after finishing eighth at the national championship last season. He and Justyn Knight will likely be SU's top runners in 2016.

The 2009 dual cross country meet between Wachusett and St. John’s (Massachusetts) High Schools was coming to an end and three green jerseys were leading the way — brothers Graham, Jeremy and Colin Bennie.

As the course turned to its final 100 yards, the three brothers ended up running alongside one another, almost shoulder to shoulder, and crossed the finish line, claiming the top three spots in the race.

The Bennie brothers ended up claiming the top spots in the first three dual meets of the season and leading the way for Wachusett’s cross country team, where they spent one year together.

“It was unbelievable. It was a fantastic year,” Jeremy, the middle brother, said. “Every day we were hanging out after practice, going home doing everything together. We were living the dream.”

Colin Bennie, the youngest of the three, is now a cross country runner at Syracuse. He finished eighth in last year’s national championship — second among SU runners — helping the team to its first national title. Colin will be an instrumental part of the team’s success this season, head coach Chris Fox said.

By himself, Colin is a talented runner. He’s also such a fierce competitor and is so locked in at his races that Fox has dubbed him as “the assassin” and a “quiet killer.”

But Colin’s running career has never been about himself. He started running and fell in love with it because it’s something both his older brothers were doing, feeding off the camaraderie they provided. After losing that bond when they left for college, Colin has managed to replicate it as much as possible with his teammates. It’s led to his own success as well as Syracuse’s.

Both Colin and his brother Jeremy got into running because Graham, the oldest brother, started doing it in sixth grade for his middle school. All three of them could have participated in other sports in neighborhood recreational league but preferred to play for their school, and cross country was the first sport offered.

“I wish we could say some poetic thing that pulled us to running,” Graham said. “But really it was the first thing we could do and we started and just loved it ever since.”

Their competitive paths at Wachusett ended up crossing for one year when Colin was a freshman, Jeremy was a sophomore and Graham was a senior. The three of them did more than just run together, as they were all mainstays on the school’s ice hockey team.

Wachu vs. SJ final 300m

Courtesy of Lisa Bennie

Eventually though, the brothers separated. First it was Graham and then Jeremy who graduated. Colin, who his whole life had followed in his brothers’ footsteps, was alone.

“When you’ve always had one or two brothers to compete with, you have a special camaraderie you can always rely on,” Lisa Bennie, his mother, said.

“His senior year … that was a big transition for him, to do it on his own, without a brother or two.”

Still, he managed to grow as a runner. Both Jeremy and Graham pointed to the same moment as the turning point when they realized he’d be able to run at a collegiate level.

Colin was set to run in the two-mile state championships in outdoor track during his junior year. Going into the competition, most predictions didn’t have him winning the race, Jeremy said. There was one runner leading the pack most way.

In the final 50 yards, Colin turned up his speed to a level neither brother had seen before and won the race.

“If he can do that, then what will he be able to do next year and the year after that?” Graham remembers thinking after the race. “If he can find that inside himself, where he can just keep digging and keep digging, nothing can stop him.”

Offers started coming in and Colin knew that he wanted to attend a school where he could compete at a high level and also recreate, to the greatest extent possible, the literal brotherhood he felt when doing so back home.

He went to visit Syracuse with his parents. About 20 minutes into the car ride back he told his parents that he knew SU was the place for him. Before they had even gotten home, Colin called the Syracuse coaching staff and committed.

Fox referenced last season’s Spiked Shoe Invitational at Penn State as Colin’s breakthrough as a runner at Syracuse. Martin Hehir and Justyn Knight, the team’s top two runners at the time, didn’t compete, and it was just the second race of the season.

He went out and won the race.

“He beat some good guys from Michigan, some good guys from Penn State and he just looked awesome,” Fox said.

Normally reserved and quiet, Colin locks in and becomes laser-focused and intense during races. Both brothers agreed that, even though they were all naturally competitive, Colin had the “extra edge”.

DSC03846

Courtesy of Lisa Bennie

Fox knows he’s a fantastic runner but sometimes pokes fun at him for all the intensity he brings.

As Hehir, Knight and Colin started finding success running together they became known as Syracuse’s three-headed monster. At some point, Knight and Hehir compared themselves to a cheetah and a gazelle after they ran well at a meet, two incredibly quick and powerful animals.

When Colin didn’t get an animal comparison, another member of the team asked Fox which one he was. Fox thought for a moment, and then decided: a pit bull.

“That kind of sums up another side of Colin’s approach to running hard. He’s all business,” Jeremy said.

Despite the jokes, Colin was improving because he could finally reproduce the team companionship that he missed from his days running with his brothers.

Both Jeremy and Graham said that the connection they see the Syracuse team hold is stronger than any other one they’ve seen or ever been a part of, excluding their brotherhood connection.

Although Hehir and Knight were clearly at a higher level than Colin at the beginning of last year, he never felt less important than them. He knew that they counted him as much a part of the team’s success as their own individual actions.

“They make it that there aren’t any shadows,” Colin said of his teammates. “They make it so everybody gets the spotlight.”

Colin remembers the moment Fox came into the Syracuse’s tent after the national championship, telling the team they’d won. He doesn’t remember much after that, only that it was the greatest feeling he had ever had after a sporting event, calling it the culmination of his running career.

After celebrating with his SU teammates, his new family, Colin went and embraced with his parents and brothers. The normally fierce and serious runner was grinning from ear-to-ear long after the race had already ended.

“Colin had the national championship trophy in his hand and you can see Colin’s cheeks are starting to sag from smiling nonstop since they found out they won,” Jeremy said.

This year with Hehir gone, Colin and Knight are expected to be the leaders for Syracuse. In the preseason, he was named one of the five fastest runners to know by the NCAA.

Colin started running because of his brothers, but then there got a point where could no longer run with them. But at Syracuse he’s once again found the support system that helped him become as good as he is.

“I think that’s part of the reason why he’s had as much success as he’s had in Syracuse,” Lisa said, “and why the team as a whole is so successful.

“I think he’s found a new group of brothers.”

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