EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – Derek Drew was given a life-changing diagnosis in March of this year.
Just weeks after competing in the Ohio Valley Conference Track and Field Championships and placing third in the 400 meters, Drew was told by his doctors that he had chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
"He had to make a tough decision at that point," said SIUE Interim Head Coach Scott Block.
Drew was soon cleared by his doctors to continue outdoor competition while still receiving chemotherapy treatments three days a month, and he made the courageous decision to continue with training just as he had in the past.
"I initially had given up on track to focus on graduating," said Drew. "But a week later, my mother, who had cancer as well, spoke to me and changed my mind. She was the first person to believe I could even before I did."
Drew's first outdoor competition was the Drury Hotels Joey Haines Invite, where he competed in the 400-meter hurdles and placed sixth.
He continued week by week, competing in his signature event of the 400-meter hurdles, and kept training to be better and faster. Drew had five meets under his belt before the OVC Championships took place May 13-14.
Drew had qualified for finals with a preliminary time of 53.12 seconds, his fastest of the season thus far. He was not favored to win the race, knowing he'd had to have a career best time to have a chance.
Drew ended up running the race of his life in a come-from-behind victory, setting a new personal best time of 52.38 seconds and overcoming the odds against him to be crowned the new OVC Champion in the 400 hurdles.
"His real-life struggle was embodied in the race he ran in the finals," said Block. "He was behind the entire race, but still Derek never gave up. He kept pushing until the very end and in dramatic fashion came out on top by only .04 seconds, and that's the kind of person Derek is."
Drew is now poised to continue competing and has a chance to compete at the NCAA West Preliminaries in Lawrence, Kansas. He is currently ranked 52nd in the NCAA West region. His postseason fate will be determined in a selection show Thursday at noon.
Drew returned to the hospital just two days after his win to start another round of chemotherapy.
"I hope that Derek's story will be an example to others. Derek made a conscious decision to beat this thing and his journey this far is an inspiration," said Block.