“I take a lot of pride in being able to tell their stories and help bring recognition to what they are accomplishing.”
Derek Dunning, 28, is the Director of Athletic Communications at Norwich University in Northfield. In Vermont since 2010, Derek leads the team responsible for telling the story of college athletes at the oldest private military university in the U.S.
How did Vermont become home for you?
I got a call from Charlie Crosby in late August of 2010 saying that Norwich had an opening in its sports information office. I had known Charlie from the college hockey community and had visited Norwich twice over the years to watch my hometown team Elmira play a few games against NU. Despite not having any specific experience working in sports information/athletic communications, I did have a journalism background graduating from Oswego State (NY) in 2009 and I have been working at a newspaper in Gloversville, NY for the previous nine months. Charlie took a chance on me and this has been my home ever since.
What keeps you here?
I really enjoy working in sports and being around college athletes and coaches that are just as passionate. I have met some incredible student-athletes over the years that have done amazing things not only playing their sport, but also in the classroom and the community. I take a lot of pride in being able to tell their stories and help bring recognition to what they are accomplishing.
What keeps you busy outside of work?
Running, hiking, softball and short-track stock car racing at Thunder Road and Bear Ridge. Running is my passion and I actually found it again while in Vermont. I ran cross country and track in high school and college but then I kind of went cold turkey on it for four years or so. I began running again in 2013 and started training for a half marathon in Lake Placid, N.Y. with a goal to run it in 1:30. I worked hard for three months to get back into shape and I accomplished my goal running the Lake Placid Half Marathon in 1:28:46. I was hooked from there.
I signed up for another half marathon later that year in September in Salem, Mass. and lowered my PR to 1:24:52. After running that half-marathon, I signed up for something I never thought I would do in my life, a full 26.2-mile marathon. I picked the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vt. and began training for it in December of 2013. Once again I had a training plan and trained all winter building up my miles and pace with the goal of running 3 hours, which would qualify me for the Boston Marathon.
Race day came in May 2014 and I felt great and was well on my pace for 20 miles. Then, I hit an absolute wall and went through the worst pain and suffering I have been through in my life for the last 6 miles. I just kept telling myself you can’t quit no matter how much you want to, you’ve worked too hard for too long to stop. I kept thinking about that for the final 6 miles and kept putting one foot in front of another even though every muscle in my body ached and wanted to quit. My pace slowed considerably and I ended up finishing in 3:02:30. Although I didn’t hit my goal of 3 hours, I did still qualify for Boston as the time cut off for my age group is 3:05.
I ran one more half marathon in Montreal in September 2014 and then started training for Boston. I trained all winter long again even in the frequent negative or single-digit degree days with the goal of running a sub-three-hour marathon constantly on my mind. Race day came this past April and the weather was miserable. 45 degrees and rain. I tried not to get discouraged even though everyone I kept talking to said “Just have fun today and enjoy the experience because it’s not a personal-record kind of day.” Well, not only did I go on to break 3 hours---I shattered it. I finished in 2:57:16, over five minutes faster than VCM on a course that is considered harder and in worse conditions. I think living in Vermont and dealing with the adverse conditions all winter were a huge key to my success on race day. I ended up beating over 2,000 people who had qualifying times that were faster than mine and I finished just inside the top 2,000 out of the 28,000 runners who ran that day.
When you hear the word success, what person comes to mind?
Ronda Rousey. If you asked me this question a month ago it would have been a completely different answer. However, over the last month I’ve really become immersed in her story. I started reading her autobiography. Her passion and absolute will to do everything in her power to win is incredibly empowering. Reading her book and getting a glimpse into her mind on what she is thinking about before she fights is something everyone should read. Her focus and determination on the task at hand is something I want to emulate in my everyday life.
What advice would you give to other young professionals in Vermont?
I think Vermont is a great place to come if you enjoy small towns and an outdoor lifestyle. Between running, hiking, mountain biking, and skiing, Vermont has pretty much all you could ask for. It’s a great place to be able to do active things, while still being able to work in a field you’re passionate about. If you’re looking to escape the everyday hustle and bustle of a big city lifestyle, Vermont is the perfect place for you. Also, if like me you still want to have that experience from time to time, Burlington can offer that glimpse of that lifestyle without having to deal with it every day.
What excites you most about living and working in Vermont?
I enjoy the safe, family-style atmosphere of Vermont. People identify strongly with these state and take pride in what it stands for and it’s local flavor. I enjoy saying I work in Vermont and I’m a part of the Norwich family and it’s helped open many doors in my life both personally and professionally that I would have never had if I stayed working for the newspaper in Gloversville, NY.
What unique advantages do we have in Vermont?
We’re a small state with a small-town feel that can make starting a family and putting your roots down extremely attractive. We’re surrounded by nature’s beauty with the Green Mountains and countless activities right at your fingertips. We’re also still located within five hours of major cities like Montreal, Boston, and New York.
What is the most challenging thing about working in Vermont?
I think the most challenging aspect of Vermont that I have come across is the cost of living to average salary rate. Vermont notoriously doesn’t pay well yet the cost of living is relatively high for comparable places.
How do you stand out?
I stand out because I feel like I work hard and lead by example. I try my best to be an example of what I expect from my employees. I’m frequently the last one in the office on game days/nights typing up a game recap or working on a social media graphic to showcase the feel of how we just won the big game.
What does it mean to be a "Young Professional?"
I think a young professional is someone who is fewer than 10 years out of college and works in a business setting. Young professionals provide new ideas, energy, and knowledge and bring new skill sets to companies and organizations that some people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have no experience with.
How can Vermont recruit and retain young professionals?
Continue to promote and sell the active lifestyle that is available in Vermont. If you find passion in that lifestyle, you’ll enjoy your time outside of work like I do, which will help offset days in the office where you become frustrated. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve gone running or hiking after a long day at work and how much more relaxed I was after I worked out. You have the opportunity to do so many things within 30 minutes from wherever you live in Vermont, while people from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Virginia, etc. have to drive hours to find similar experiences.
What’s your motto?
“Hard work pays off.” Whether it’s running or my job here at Norwich, hard work has paid off. I put in my time and worked long hours and weekends. I’ve tried to bring a new, fresh outlook to things like actively engaging our department in social media, video streaming, and equality amongst all 20 of the varsity sports and I think that has earned the respect of not only the coaches and student-athletes, but also our administration. That hard work has helped me rise after two years from an assistant director to being the director.