Tyler Rippel arrived at Illinois State University in the fall of 2011 as a lanky 6-foot-5 kid with a running résumé that basically was blank.
Rippel, a 2011 Prairie Ridge graduate, overcame his lack of experience with exuberance. When he got to Normal, he notified Redbirds track and field coach Elvis Forde that he wanted to walk on to the team.
“He was very persistent,” Forde said. “One thing I saw from the beginning with [Rippel] was his determination. That’s one of the characteristics that helped him.”
But from that nondescript high school career to his modest start at ISU, Rippel has made exponential strides. This spring, the Redbirds’ sophomore was the 800 meters runner-up at the Missouri Valley Conference Meet, and next year he will receive a partial scholarship for his efforts.
Rippel ran 1:52.2 at the MVC Meet to finish behind teammate Chris Hamilton (1:51.3) in the 800. In two years, Rippel had hacked 10 seconds off his best 800 time from high school.
“[Prairie Ridge boys track coach Judd] Shutt recruited me to do jumps, but that really didn’t work out,” Rippel said. “I did cross country my senior year, but I was never in the top seven. It was ugly. I ran in the open races, but I didn’t really take it seriously.”
Yet, somehow, Rippel drew inspiration from Prairie Ridge teammates such as Marc DiVerde, Mitch Wilkins and Joe Cowlin. He saw how much they loved to run and yearned for that same runner’s high. Shutt encouraged him to give it a shot at Illinois State.
“He was this lanky kid with a ton of energy,” Shutt said. “You could tell he was committed. When he dropped to 1:52 that shows the zest and enthusiasm he has.”
“It’s a great story when a kid can find his love and build on that,” Shutt said.
Rippel’s start at ISU was not graceful.
“He struggled,” Forde said. “The first day of practice he couldn’t finish anything. He was falling down, vomiting. He eventually would complete the task, no matter what. Then, once he got in shape, he wanted to challenge everybody.”
Forde gave Rippel parameters by which he could earn scholarship money. Rippel took a job as a dock boy at Nelson’s Resort in Crane Lake, Minn., last summer. Basically, he worked and ran.
“I lived in a dorm and had a lot of free time to run,” Rippel said.
Forde was thrilled by what he saw.
“If you want to run, you have to pay your dues in the summer time,” Forde said. “He paid his dues, and because he’s doing the same thing [this summer], he will be even better. He’s a fighter. He’s hungry and has a great attitude. I’m looking forward to having him.”
Rippel, a conservation and plant biology major, begged his way onto the team two years ago and now will have a 20-percent athletic scholarship.
“When I see my friends doing what they’ve done since sixth grade and having a lot of success, that inspires me,” Rippel said.