ANNAPOLIS -- Send your son to the U.S. Naval Academy and see America.
John and Dianne Keller of Harvard, Neb., have their own way of exploring the United States. Their son, Greg, is a Navy senior who happens to be one of the nation's top collegiate distance runners. Vacations are planned around NCAA championships, and it's usually a given that Greg is going to be there.
When Greg was a plebe and the Midshipmen played host to the 1989 NCAA Cross Country Championships, the Kellers jetted in for the race and a Thanksgiving reunion. Since then, when Greg has qualified for a national meet, they have gassed up their Mazda and hit the road.
They drove to Knoxville, Tenn., to see Greg in the 1990 NCAA cross country meet. Each season during his junior year required a lengthy trip. Greg qualified for the cross country championships at the University of Arizona in Tucson in November; took sixth in the mile at the indoor meet at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis in March; and placed fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the University of Texas in June.
"We've enjoyed the experiences a great deal," John Keller said from the family home in Harvard. "We're looking forward to this year."
The Kellers want to take two drives to Indiana, since the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Nov. 23 will be held at Indiana University in Bloomington and the Hoosier Dome is the permanent site of the indoor meet. They want to spend a hot weekend in June in New Orleans, site of the 1993 outdoor championships.
The Kellers nearly got together in the Big Easy last June. Greg lowered his steeplechase best to 8 minutes, 43.00 seconds at the NCAAs but his last chance to qualify for the Olympic Trials in New Orleans was a 1,500 in Boston. His 3:41.99 was a Navy record, but shy of the Trials standard by less than two-tenths of a second.
From August 1991 to June 1992, Keller was on a demanding schedule, the main reason coach Al Cantello held him out of Navy's first two meets. He's entered the last four races and won three, taking fourth at the Indiana Invitational, where Navy's victory in a 41-team field propelled it into the national picture.
Heading into tomorrow's Heptagonals championships -- the Ivy League plus Army and Navy -- at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, the Mids are ranked No. 6.
Backed by fellow seniors Todd Washburn and Luis Molina, and juniors Bruce Frame and Jeff Leuenberger, Keller hopes to improve on his runner-up finish of a year ago and guide Navy to its first Heptagonals cross country title since 1974.
"You've got to have respect for Greg," Frame said. "He's a two-time All-American, and when he tells you about the races he's been in, you listen. He pulls the rest of us along."
Distance-running is billed as a lonely sport, but Cantello demands camaraderie among his charges. They are briefed on Navy history, which by June could list Keller as the best all-around distance runner the Midshipmen have ever had.
Keller is a late bloomer. He was a Nebraska state champion in the 1,600 in 1988, but he never broke his father's Harvard High record of 4:29. He ran as many events as he could enter, and fast times weren't a priority.
"Kindergarten through 12th grade, there were 320 people at my school," Keller said. "My senior year, we had only three guys out for cross country, and I ran as many races as I could in track to give us a respectable score."
Despite the school record in the 1,500 -- that 3:41.99 converts to a sub-four minute mile -- Keller's future probably lies in the steeplechase. He knows he needs more speed to excel as a miler, but at 6 feet 3 and 157 pounds, the steeplechase doesn't provide that big a barrier.
The water jump at the Penn Relays last spring, however, was a major obstacle. In prime position to move up on the leader, Wisconsin's Donovan Bergstrom, Keller "got too excited" and took an unscheduled bath with 500 meters to go.
"I'm glad I got up and finished," Keller said. "That's the time [8:45.96] that got me to the NCAAs."
How else would mom and dad have seen Austin, Texas?
Greg Keller's bests
Navy senior Greg Keller, one of the top collegiate distance runners in the country, has recorded these personal bests:
Event.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... Time
Outdoor 1,500 meters.. .. .. .. .3:41.99
Indoor mile.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .4:02.71
3,000 steeplechase.. .. .. .. ...8:43.00
Cross country (8,000).. .. .. .. ..24:10