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Covering the Distance

Former All-American joins elite class of marathon runners while juggling medical school and family life.

Martin Hehir runs in cross country uniform
Martin Hehir pushes himself at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. It was only the second time he’d competed in a marathon, and he finished sixth.

Martin Hehir ’15 travels with ease on a path full of challenges. As an elite professional distance runner, fourth-year medical student, husband, and father of two young daughters, Hehir takes daily life in stride. “When I’m on campus, in the clinic or hospital, I’m working hard, but then I get home and shift—boom—I can separate the two very well, and I think it balances nicely,” says Hehir, a scholar-athlete and All-America member of Syracuse University’s 2015 NCAA Division I national champion cross country team. “The running also is great. It kind of distracts me, so I like it. I like being busy.”

On February 29, Hehir’s capabilities were on full display when he finished sixth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, clocking in at 2:11:29 over the grueling, hilly 26.2-mile course. “The strategy was, let’s go make an Olympic team,” he says. “I came 86 seconds away from qualifying for the team.”

To reach that point was no easy task. With advance planning, Hehir structured his clinical rotation schedule to free up seven weeks of full-time training with the Reebok Boston Track Club (RBTC) in Charlottesville, Virginia. He reunited with former All-America teammate Colin Bennie ’16, G’18 and they trained together under RBTC head coach Chris Fox, the retired Syracuse University head coach who launched RBTC in 2018. Hehir and Bennie pounded out 110-mile weeks, with 20-plus-mile runs on weekends. “We ran almost every step together,” Hehir says. On race day, Bennie crossed the line in ninth (2:12:14), giving RBTC two finishers in the top 10. “No one had talked about me or Colin or Coach Fox’s Reebok group,” Hehir says. “We were underdogs, like we were at Syracuse, like we’ve always been.”

Success as a Scholar-Athlete

As a national-level distance runner and class salutatorian at Washingtonville High School in Orange County, New York, Hehir passed up attending an Ivy League school when Fox shared his vision for building the Orange into a national power: They weren’t good enough yet to win championships, but they would be by the time Hehir graduated. “That was some honest truth to be told as an 18-year-old kid, but we all bought into it as a team, and that whole 2015 season we couldn’t be stopped,” he says. “I think our team culture was super important. We all loved each other and were really good bros. But we also held each other accountable and pushed each other.”

Fox describes Hehir as “stress-less” and enthusiastic about everything he takes on. “Family, school and running at the highest level—I believe he’d be bored if he did not try it all,” Fox says. “He is a good role model for us.”

Along with helping lead the Orange to the national title and four straight conference crowns in cross country, Hehir collected All-America honors in both cross country and academics. He won the 2012 Big East and 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) cross country (XC) championships, as well as ACC titles in the 10,000-meter outdoor (2014) and 5,000-meter indoor (2015). In 2014, he was named ACC Men’s XC Performer of the Year, and he was the 2015-16 ACC XC Scholar Athlete of the Year.

For Hehir, top-tier running performances and outstanding academics have long been intertwined. As a College of Arts and Sciences student, he earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in biology and Spanish language, literature and culture, and then received a certificate of advanced study in medicolegal death investigations. He fondly recalls the challenges of classes on Don Quixote and Spanish soap operas, doing volunteer research on fruit flies in Professor Steve Dorus’ lab, and helping out at the Onondaga County medical examiner’s office.

Martin Hehir in medical coat stands in front of the sign for the Jefferson Alumni Hall at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Click to read his story.
Hehir attends medical school in Philadelphia and plans to enroll in a residency program in anesthesiology after graduating in the spring.

Doctor in Training on the Run

Hehir credits his mother, a pediatric nurse, with influencing his interest in medicine and proudly notes that his twin sisters are both nurses and that his wife, Monica, is a nurse practitioner. “Pretty early on, I said, ‘All right, I’ll be a doctor. I like this stuff,’” he says.

After being accepted at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College in Philadelphia, Hehir decided to defer his enrollment for a year and pursue professional running with the Northern Arizona Elite team in Flagstaff. When he returned to the Northeast for medical school, he reached out to Fox and told him he still wanted to run. Fox was all-in and focused Hehir on marathoning. “His transition was seamless,” Fox says. “Like most things for Marty, once he decides to do it, it appears to come easy for him.”

In December 2018, Hehir placed ninth (2:13:49) in the California International Marathon, qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials. “The marathon is definitely a beast of a race,” Hehir says. “It stands alone as this thing that you definitely have to commit to 100%.”

A family stands together outdoors on a fall day with two small children
Martin and Monica Hehir with their daughters, McKenna (left) and Adeline.

Hehir has no shortage of commitments and enjoys them all. He loves family life with Monica and their daughters, 2-year-old McKenna and Adeline, who was born in July. When he graduates from medical school in 2021, he’ll enter a residency program in anesthesiology. In December, he’ll compete in The Marathon Project, an elite, invitation-only event in Chandler, Arizona, and then race next spring in the 10,000-meter run at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials, looking to improve on a seventh-place showing in 2016.

Hehir was also honored to be selected by the members of the Class of 2020 at Washingtonville High School to give the virtual keynote speech at their graduation. He encouraged the students to seek out their individual paths—even if they run counter to others’ expectations—and to embrace the support of those who can help them achieve their goals. “The reality is, each and every one of you is going to take a different path filled with unexpected turns, tough decisions and hard work,” he told them. That’s been the path for Hehir, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jay Cox

This story was published on .


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