Drew Windle is a family man.
“I love my family,” says the world indoor 800m silver medallist.
“It means everything, really. My family has been super supportive not only of my running but anything I’m passionate about and have wanted to do with my life. The family name and everyone in it have shaped me into who I am.”
Nine Windles travelled from the United States to the IAAF World Championships London 2017 to support the rising US middle-distance star in his major championships debut.
“I was really happy that we were able to get them out there and watch me on the biggest stage in one of the most important parts of my life so far.”
His parents are a visible and engaging part of the US track scene, and it takes a birth or a wedding for them to miss one of his competitions. Indeed, Windle missed the 2018 Prefontaine Classic to attend his brother’s wedding.
Perhaps Windle’s toughest competition in London came from within his own family. Not to be outdone by a World Championships semi-finalist, one of his sisters announced the sex of her forthcoming baby, while his brother became engaged.
Three adult children in London; three major life events. All in a week for the Windles.
The flames of Herculis
Before London, Windle had raced in Europe only once.
“There have been two races in my life when I’ve been taken out of my element because of events going on during the race,” says Windle. “The first one was in Monaco (2017) and the second one was in London.
“Coming down the straightaway of the first lap in Monaco, flames start shooting up going into the bell lap and I said ‘what the heck is going on here?!’ ”
At the World Championships in London, Great Britain’s Kyle Langford was in Windle’s semi-final. “The crowd erupted coming down the home straightaway and my ears were ringing it was so loud,” says Windle. “It really caught me off guard.”
Windle’s big splash had come in the furnace that was the 2017 US Championships in Sacramento, California, where he unleashed a memorable kick to fly from last to third over the closing 200 metres and land a coveted spot on the World Championships team.
Windle, a six-time NCAA Division II champion at Ashland University in Ohio, compared his Sacramento race to the 2014 Grand Valley Big Meet on an indoor oversized track in Michigan in his junior year of college in which he blew apart his personal best with his unexpected and other worldly 1:46.52.
“To me it’s such a cool moment because I feel like a lot of people can look back and say ‘this is the moment that changed my life’,” says Windle. “I realised in that moment: this has a lot of potential to get me to that next level in my running career.”
If only his family could settle on a name.
“My birth name is actually ‘Curt Andrew’,” says Windle. “I’ve always gone by ‘Drew’, but I don’t think my parents have called me Drew since elementary school.”
In second or third grade, his class was in the library when they learned about the Dewey decimal system. One of his classmates noted that ‘Dewey’ was pretty close to ‘Drew’ and so he became ‘Dewey’ at school. But Windle never told his parents.
“My friends all came over one time and they were calling me ‘Dewey’.”
His surprised mother pointed out that Windle’s great-grandfather was named Dewey Hubbard.
“My Mom obviously loved the name and it stuck.”
With his own hashtag already in hand – #RunLikeTheWindle comes from an article title written by Ashland University in his early years on their team – Windle registered an LLC in that name, while his parents created the ubiquitous #RunLikeTheWindle buttons. “I think they handed out probably a hundred buttons while we were in London.”
Seattle to Birmingham
The first hint of what was in the offing in 2018 came on 13 January on the University of Washington’s oversized Dempsey track where Windle spun a stellar 2:20.95 1000m PB.
Windle never let anyone else take the lead.
“That race said a lot more about me mentally than anything,” said Windle. “The last time I led a race wire-to-wire was my senior year at NCAA outdoor nationals.”
The next time was the opening round of the US Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Windle – known for his furious finishes – surprised everyone by leading from the outset and defeating Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy by 0.05 in 1:49.20.
Only Windle advanced, and in one fell swoop, he had qualified for the final and eliminated one of his chief rivals not only from the US Indoor Championships, but the World Indoor Championships as well.
In the US finals, he qualified for his second global championships in nine months by finishing second behind Donavan Brazier’s stellar 1:45.10 wire-to-wire win.
“He’s a phenomenal talent who still is only 21 years old, which I think a lot of people forget,” said an admiring Windle.
Hi Ho Silver!
In his 800m heat at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018, Windle set an indoor PB of 1:45.52. But the 25-year-old had mixed feelings.
“I was so emotional – it was hard for me to understand what 1:45.52 in a preliminary round meant,” explained Windle. “All I knew was I was third – and if you’re third, you’re at risk.”
He advanced on time and, as was the case at the US Indoor Championships, Windle was last in the World Indoor Championships final with 200 metres to go. Windle nipped Spain’s Saul Ordonez at the line to take silver by 0.02.
“Our race is under review,” Britain’s fourth-place finisher Elliot Giles told Windle, ominously.
“I look over,” said Windle, “and there was Katie Mackey (3000m finalist) and Chantelle (Fondgren, his girlfriend) looking petrified and ghost white.”
“I just got silver,” he thought to himself. “What are they all upset about?”
No one wanted to utter the words.
“It’s under review,” Fondgren said.
He asked BBC commentator Michael Johnson: “What’s going on here?” Johnson who acknowledged the worst: “You’re DQed.”
It turned into the longest 800m of his life.
“The race lasted one hour 31 minutes and 47 seconds – and felt like it, too,” said Windle.
1:47.99 for the race, 90 minutes for the disqualification and appeal.
How did he find out he was reinstated?
“I’m super grateful that I got the whole experience,” he said, including the medal ceremony and lap of honour. “It just had some drama.”
He likes the track at Arena Birmingham so much that he thinks he could approach the North American indoor record there.
“It was a really cool environment,” says Windle, in spite of the nightmarish 90 minutes he spent there. “I’d like to go back to that track and get into a really fast 800m.”
“I get to have a full career now. It opens a lot of doors for other meets and helps me out financially – it makes things a lot more comfortable.”
Most of all, Windle said, “On the track I’m a lot more confident.”
He noted that even his introductions will change.
“It’s no longer going to be, ‘six-time Division II champ’,” he says. “It’s going to be, ‘world silver medallist’.”
When he thinks of his world indoor silver, he thinks of what it will mean to future generations of Windles.
“This is something I’m really going to appreciate 10 years from now,” Windle said with quiet satisfaction. “I’ll be able to tell my kids and my grandkids and that will be really cool.
“I am stoked about being a World Championships silver medallist.”
Mark Cullen for the IAAF