Darton College alumnus and 2011 Soldier’s Marathon champion David Marley is no stranger to pain. It struck him in August 2006, when as a student-athlete David severed his anterior cruciate ligament, and there’s no doubt he faced a mental tug-of-war with agony again Saturday as he led hundreds of runners and even some professionals to the finish line of the 2011 Soldier’s Marathon in Columbus. David’s story is truly one of definitive success through hard work and perseverance, and it began at right here at Darton College. Five years ago, as an outside midfielder for the Cavaliers, David heard a “pop” while battling for a 50/50 ball at a home soccer match with a Region XVII-rival college. That audible snap was his ACL as it ripped apart, and it would mean surgery and certainly several following months of rehabilitation.
But David didn’t spend much time feeling sorry for himself. “I was just anxious to get back,” he said. “I knew I’d get back – I just didn’t know when, or if I’d ever get back to where I was athletically.” Following surgery, David limped on crutches to the Darton College athletic training department every day as he began the slow, progressive rehabilitation process. That December he began dating Brittney Skiles, a local runner who would later become Darton College’s first women’s conference champion. Through Brittney he met her father, Bruce Skiles, who turned out to be a local running enthusiast and former All-American and Olympic qualifier.
Soon after, David began to get back into his first love – running. Very slowly he began picking up his mileage on the dirt trails of Bruce Skiles’ local farm. Bruce would become something of a mentor to the young athlete, and as he continued to heal, it wasn’t long before David was running at the farm daily. But Bruce, who this fall became the head coach of cross country at Darton College, takes little credit for David’s recovery. “It was him,” Bruce said. “As a coach you do whatever you can on your end, but it’s the athlete who has to get out there and do it.”
In the fall of 2007, Darton College would create its first cross country program, and things really began to fall into place for David. He won the program’s first race, a grueling 8,000-meter run through the mountains of North Georgia, and instantly made the new Darton cross country program a conference competitor. Throughout that inaugural season David became Darton’s first All-Region First-Team runner, All-Georgia Second-Team runner, Cross Country Academic All-American, and representative at the NJCAA XC Championships, where he set a school-record 8K of 27:12.
He did all of this only one year after his injury. But that was just the beginning. Upon earning a degree in exercise science from Darton, David agreed to a scholarship at Peach Belt Conference powerhouse Columbus State University, where he would go on to continue making headlines. In his first season with the Cougars, David became the top runner in the Peach Belt, winning the individual championship title and leading his team to a Peach Belt Conference Championship. During his undergraduate study at CSU, David would run a blistering 14:47 5K (3.1 miles), a 25:43 8K (5 miles) and a 32:04 10K (6.2 miles). He became a 1st Team All-Peach Belt Conference runner, a member of the PBC All-Academic Team, and a US Track & Field Coaches Association Academic All-American.
The athletic department at CSU was so impressed with David’s success, they offered him a job as a graduate student-assistant coach, which he accepted. He plans to graduate this spring with a master’s degree in health administration. Interestingly, as an assistant coach at CSU for cross country and track & field, David often tells interested high school athletes that they need to make their start at Darton College. He said the programs and facilities at Darton College are top-notch, and the small-school atmosphere makes the change from high school to college much easier for incoming freshmen.
“It also helped me save some money – I can tell you that,” he added. “Plus it’s a very good school with great teachers. It certainly prepared me to go on to study at a university.” David’s experience at Darton helped him get a successful start to higher education because he used the many resources that are so readily available on the Darton campus, he said.
This resourcefulness, combined with a headstrong determination to succeed, surely worked for David again Saturday as he pushed his way through the pains of the Soldier Marathon as well – all 26.2 miles of it. Exhausted, mentally and physically, David tore through the tape at the finish line after a grueling two hours, thirty-one minutes and seventeen seconds to become the 2011 champion.