When Haiyong Liu first met the new College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean, he never thought he would follow in her footsteps — literally.
It was 2018 and Liu, the college’s director of Linguistics, had a sit down with CLAS Dean Stephanie Hartwell during her first year at Wayne State. The pair met in Hartwell’s office to discuss work, with Liu observing a few familiar items lying about. “I saw some running posters on her desk and asked if she runs. She said, ‘yes’ and asked if I did, too. I told her I did, and we started talking about running,” Liu said.
Liu never forgot the interaction. And when Hartwell’s CLAS Women Warriors relay team placed first in the 2019 Detroit Free Press Marathon’s women’s masters division, Liu was inspired. That’s when he decided to create his own men’s relay team, composed of WSU Chinese-American faculty members from across campus for this year’s Free Press Marathon, held on Oct. 17.
Not everyone was as avid a runner as Liu, while others just had to find their stride again. But by the end, Liu and four other professors from CLAS, the College of Engineering and College of Education trained to compete for the event’s top spot. In addition to Liu, the five-person WSU-CHI-FAC team included: Hengguang Li, Mathematics; Dongxiao Zhu, Computer Science; Bo Shen, Kinesiology; and Chuanzhu Fan, Biological Sciences.
“I really think the marathon is like a ceremony, a magnet to bring you to running. In the beginning, we were a little more hesitant and not very confident,” Liu said. “In my case, since I've been running for a while, my role was to lead people, to give our team more confidence, to tell them ‘you can do it, you can do it.’”
With COVID restrictions still in place and the typical international route into Canada closed, this year’s marathon found, and wound, its way into the heart of Wayne State’s campus. “It was a really nice feeling running by Old Main, the College of Nursing and everything,” Liu said. “It was a good, chilly day to run and a good day to feel the warmth of the city, of Wayne State, of our cheering students and colleagues, and this welcoming campus. It was beautiful.”
Zhu took the first leg of 5.2 miles, while Liu took the next stretch of 7.2. Legs three and four were run by Bo and Li, 6.6 and 3 miles respectively. The fifth and final 4.2-mile leg went to Fan, who ran a personal best.
“He surprised himself. He really didn't expect to run so fast,” Liu said. “He was so fast that we were planning to meet him at the finish line. When we got there, he had already crossed, so we had to meet in the relay reunion area. It was a big celebration. We were relieved and really happy. The first thing I think people said was ‘we want to do it again.’”
While the group was running for WSU, Liu said they also wanted to make a statement against the anti-Asian hate that has been on the rise in America in recent years. “We want to let people know that we can run, too. And that we love the city. We are not just here to teach, but are part of the bigger community of Wayne State, Detroit and America,” Liu said, also noting the WSU team are all of Chinese origin. “None of us were born in this country. We all immigrated here for school and then to work.”
While the WSU-CHI-FAC relay team didn’t repeat the glory of the 2019 CLAS Women Warriors, Liu said, they managed to take home second place for the men’s masters division.
“Many of us had a personal best for our own leg, and we really think it is a good idea to have more WSU faculty and staff involved with running in Detroit,” said Liu, who also received some congratulatory praise from Dean Hartwell. “It’s a good way to connect with our colleagues and to know about the hidden treasures of the city, let alone becoming healthy.”