Even while track star Casimir Loxsom was breaking Penn State records, he always made sure to keep tabs on an up-and-coming talent from his hometown.
“You would just always hear about Danae,” said Loxsom, a 2013 graduate who holds the world record in the 600-meter run. “She was this young, talent sensation.”
Because of their 7-year age difference, Loxsom and Danae Rivers only knew of each other growing up in New Haven, Conn., where both attended Wilbur Cross High School. They only met in passing at various track meets.
“I just find it extremely ironic that they both came from the same high school,” said John Gondak, Penn State’s head track and field coach. “Casimir obviously did amazing things here and turned that into a professional running career, and Danae has come in and started off on a real fantastic indoor season and has gotten the outdoor season off to a great start as well.”
At her first collegiate indoor meet in mid-January, the freshman Rivers broke the 600-meter school record with a time of 1 minute, 29.06 seconds. Less than a week later, she set the 800-meter school record with a time of 2:04.04.
“I’ve known about Danae since she was in seventh grade,” Loxsom said from Seattle, where he now lives. “I’ve been on the hype train for a while.”
At the Penn State Nationals, in which the program invites alumni to compete for time purposes, Rivers ran a mile in 4:34:87 — another Penn State record.
At the same event, less than an hour later, Loxsom ran the 600 meters in 1:14:91 — a world record.
Loxsom said he saw potential in Rivers early and raved about her to Gondak during his time with the Nittany Lions. Despite having little to no contact when they were in Connecticut, Loxsom formally reached out to Rivers when she decided to attend Penn State.
The two have stayed in contact ever since and even trained with each other during this past winter break. Rivers said she considers Loxsom a mentor.
Rivers is shorter than most of her competitors, which in theory should put her at a disadvantage because of her shorter stride. But when it comes to the final stages of the race, the visibly muscular freshman always seems to break from the pack.
“She has great racing instincts and, when you have good speed and good racing instincts, you stick around in the race long enough to use your speed in the end,” Gondak said. “She’s very good at doing that.”
Rivers has been dominant in the outdoor season as the team moves toward the Big Ten championships from May 12-14 at Penn State’s newly renovated $1.5 million track. She ran about one second off school records in the 1,500 meters on March 31 and in the 800 meters on April 8.
On April 21, Rivers broke the school record in the women’s 800 meters with a time of 2:02:53. The previous mark was 2:03:09 set by Rebekka Simko in 2012.
On April 1, with the help of Rivers, Penn State snapped a 6-year-old record in the women’s 3,200-meter relay at the Florida Relays with a time of 8:38.17. Rivers and Co. then eviscerated that record once more at the Penn Relays this past weekend with a time of 8:25.49 — complementing Thursday’s record-breaking time (10:56.07) in the distance medley relay.
Rivers said her mentality for the final stretch of the race is simple: “Just go for it. Why not? I have nothing to lose.”
Mark Fischer is a Penn State journalism student.