John McDonnell is responsible for many things: 40 National Championships, 5 triple crowns, 84 conference championships and the friendship of Frank O’Mara, 53, David Swain, 52, and Gary Taylor, 50.
Even more so, McDonnell might be responsible for the birth of these men’s children.
“If it wasn’t for John McDonnell, I wouldn’t be alive,” Aidan Swain, David’s oldest son, said.
Three friends, three sons, two generations of cross-country and track runners, all thanks to John McDonnell.
The three foreign-born fathers all came to Arkansas knowing little about the university, let alone where the state was.
Gary Taylor, born in Hammersmith, England, said he had no idea where Arkansas was. “I used to tell people in England ‘It’s next to Texas.’”
Both O’Mara and Swain also had geographical difficulties when it came to locating the state. While O’Mara said he had never heard of Arkansas, Swain said he almost booked a ticket to Fayetteville, N.C.
All three eventually found their way to Fayetteville, Ark., and began doing what they did best: run.
O’Mara was the first Razorback since 1948 to become an NCAA outdoor champion when he won the 1,500-meter race in 1983. Gary Taylor, to this day, holds the fastest split ever ran in the 4x1,500 meter relay at Penn Relays. With a split of 3 minutes 36.2 seconds, Taylor helped the UA track team win the relay in 1986.
All three men played significant roles in helping the Razorbacks to their first National Championship in 1984.
David Swain led the triumphant team by finishing first for Arkansas and 14th overall. Gary Taylor finished fifth for the team and O’Mara helped McDonnell win his first cross-country championship by coaching alongside.
The three men all had victorious moments during their careers at Arkansas. They each played prominent roles in UA track history and were a part of McDonnell’s legacy.
“I always knew I was lucky to be a part of that era,” Taylor said.
“I had a very unique perspective, ” O’Mara said in regards to McDonnell’s legacy. “I saw how having a plan, believing in it, and managing to it, creates reward and accomplishments.”
Through John McDonnell’s “uncomplicated approach to success,” as David said, the men created history. Their history followed the next generation of runners, which included their sons.
The legacy continues.
All three fathers stayed in Arkansas after graduating from the UA and continued their friendship.
“We all married U.S. girls, we all settled down in Arkansas, and our kids are like siblings to each other,” Taylor said.
By fall of 2014, the three fathers will also have one more thing in common. Taylor’s son, Brendan, will enter university as a collegiate runner and begin racing amongst thousands of competitors that include family-friends, Aidan, and Colin O’Mara.
Prior to entering collegiate athletics, all three sons were Arkansas State Champions.
“After missing my junior year track season to a stress fracture, I came back to win the 1,600-meter run my senior year of high school,” Aidan said.
Colin kept the 1,600-meter title in the Swain-Taylor-O’Mara family, by winning the championship race the next year. Brendan has also made a name for himself by winning “state titles for the indoor mile, outdoor 3,200 and just recently in cross-country,” said his father, Gary.
High school was just the beginning for these boys. Both Aidan and Colin run collegiately at Arkansas and Villanova University, respectively.
“Quality of education and Coach Marcus O’Sullivan” are the reasons he chose to run at Villanova, Colin said.
Aidan, on the other hand, said he decided to follow in his family’s Razorback footsteps.
“My dad ran here, my uncle ran here, so I wanted to continue the tradition.”
Both Colin and Aidan are already a part of winning teams. Villanova won the Big East in cross country this season and was the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Champions.
In his second year as a Razorback, the younger Swain has already been a part of six titles for Arkansas. Four were conference titles, one was at the regional level and this past year the Razorbacks won the Indoor National Championship at home.
“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Aidan said. “Seeing the guys take home the trophy in Fayetteville was the perfect way to get Buck’s first win.”
The indoor title marks Coach Chris Bucknam’s first National Championship since he took over the program in fall of 2008.
Whether or not another son follows in his father’s Razorback footsteps is yet to be determined, but all the sons have the encouragement and support they need to continue their running career.
“I want Colin, Brendan and I to not only achieve what our fathers’ did but also create our own legacy,” Aidan said. “Whether it’s Colin at Villanova, me here at the U of A, or Brendan in whichever school he wishes to attend.”
The fathers have similar wishes for their sons, as they strive to build their own legacy separate from the one that has already been created. All three want to de-emphasize what has happened, and focus on their sons’ accomplishments.
“I hope my achievements motivate rather than pressure,” Frank O’Mara said.
David Swain said that he always tells his son to make himself proud when he performs because he (David) is already there.
The friendship the three families have can long be credited to McDonnell, but the bond that they have formed throughout the years is unique.
“We all left our families at an early age, straight from our mother’s apron strings,” David said. “We have done and continue to do, a lot of growing up together. You need family close to survive; Frank and Gary are my family.”
It’s been two generations of runners, teammates, sons and brothers – all of whom have no regrets, none whatsoever.