When Robert Sandlin Jr. was in the eighth grade, his mother, Amanda, died due to breast cancer that she was diagnosed with three years earlier.
That was the turning point in his running career — and life.
“If not for running I could have ended up in some bad places,” Sandlin said. “Going out anytime of the day or night and throwing down hard mile after hard mile is what I used to cope. In a way my running and accomplishments are my way of commemorating her.”
And paying tribute to his mother is exactly what he’s done.
From his senior year of high school at Franklin County to his senior year of college at Bellarmine University, the cross country and track and field standout has been piling up the accolades — and saving his best for last.
In the past year alone, Sandlin has recorded the third-fastest mile time (4:01.20) in the prestigious Meyo Mile Invitational in Indiana, placed fourth (4:12.22) in the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships in North Carolina and finished an incredible 13th (3:51.49) in the USATF Indoor Championships 1500-meter run in New Mexico as the only collegiate runner in a professional field. He is also a three-time NCAA Division II All-American, a Capital One First-Team Academic All-American, has been named to multiple All-Conference teams in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and holds six BU track and field records.
“I couldn’t be more satisfied,” said Sandlin, who won three individual state titles while at FCHS. “I can look at any point in my life and tie it to running. Never could have imagined when I started running in the third grade at little Capital Day School that it would have taken me to the places I’ve been. Running is as big a part of who I am as anything else.”
So what has led to Sandlin saving his best season for last?
A better body and a better mindset.
“I am physically much stronger and more mature than I was in high school and the start of college,” Sandlin said. “Instead of peaking at a young age, my body still had a lot of room left for improvement all the way through these past four years.
“My attitude was that I wanted to reach my limit. I wanted to come as close as I could to reaching my absolute 100 percent potential.”
Unfortunately, Sandlin won’t be able to keep his strong season going. After running in the NCAA Championships in March with what was thought to be a second-degree hip flexor muscle strain, it was recently discovered that it was actually a stress reaction (precursor to a stress fracture) in one of the bones in his pelvis. He won’t be able to run for roughly six to eight weeks, meaning he’ll miss the outdoor portion of the track season.
“My goal for the rest of the season is to get healthy,” he said.
Sandlin’s collegiate career may not be over quite yet, though. Because of the injury, he could finish out his eligibility while in graduate school at the University of Kentucky this fall.
“If I don’t run at UK next year I will definitely still continue running,” said Sandlin, who has a 3.9 GPA and will be graduating in May with a degree in exercise science, “and would then pick up some lower-level sponsorship deals and compete in the road-racing scene.”
No matter what he does next year and beyond, Sandlin will always have his mother on the back of his mind whenever he’s running.
“I wish she were here to see everything I’ve done, but in the end the greatest things you can do are for yourself,” he said. “I look back on my running career with no regrets, knowing that I did everything exactly the way I wanted to.”