STORY: University of Charleston Sprinter Aims to Inspire


A rainy day at Laidley Field didn’t stop Zack Marcum and I from getting some sprints in on the track—but it did (mercifully, for my sake) cut the session short. This isn’t a problem for Marcum, because running is his greatest passion and the activity that keeps him grounded.

“The motivation to run is something I think I’ve always had,” Marcum said. “I always had a passion, a love for running.”

That much is apparent; the Madison, WV native is running during this interview with a cold, maintaining an effortless stride.

“My grandfather told me my first steps were like none other he’s ever seen.”

Marcum made it a point to mention that he was raised by his grandfather.

“Growing up, I didn’t really have great parents,” he said. “They were into the drugs. That motivated me to want to help get rid of them.”

By that, Marcum means he aspires to work for the Drug Enforcement Agency, giving back to his home state. In his words, “West Virginia is overrun by drugs.”

This is what the college senior chooses to focus on—not being a two-time West Virginia Secondary Schools’ Athletic Commission champion in high school and an all-state runner. Not that he holds records including the 400 meter (indoor, 48.22 seconds), 500 meter (indoor, 1:07.69), 4×400 meter relay (indoor), 200 meter (outdoor, adjusted for wind) for the University of Charleston. Not that he was the Mountain East Conference’s Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year in 2017.

“I hope that motivates kids,” Marcum said. “Never had parents at track meets or anything. I was just always here on my own doing stuff. I just loved to compete. That’s what kept me in the game.”

His first steps into running track came while at Scott High School.

“The funniest story: Coach Nick Bias coached me in high school, and now coaches me here. He saw me running one day at football practice,” he recalled. “I had on, believe it or not, ankle-high Jordans, running around the track in a pair of jeans. He started running with me and talked me into running track. That’s where it all began.”

Although Marcum already had a love for running, he had some work to do.

“When I first started, I was not the most talented. I definitely didn’t start out a state champion or ranked crazy high in our nation for a 400 meter dash. I started at the bottom. I remember my freshman year…I came out, I made it to the 400 meter dash at states. I was excited. I was one of the first freshmen to do it in our state.”

He stressed the next sentence, because it’s part of a point he wanted to make.

“I got dead last,” he laughed. “That was the motivation for me not to quit. I could be better. By the time high school was over, I was a two-time state champion. It’s all about the work you want to put in and the effort. You’ve just got to set a goal and go for it. If you get it, set a goal higher than that.”

Marcum wants to compete in national competition and become an All-American, but he is less concerned with his honors as an athlete, although he says it’s all “lovely stuff.” He said he will never give up wants to leave West Virginia better than the way he found it as a child, by working in law enforcement and encouraging kids to learn from the way he did not let life define him.

“It’s one of those circumstances where you can see a kid not making it far in life,” he said. “Made the best out of it. Here I am.”

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