Stanford's Miles Unterreiner will pull off a remarkable double Saturday that would be logistically impossible without help from his school and a huge assist by the NCAA: He will first compete in the NCAA cross country meet in Louisville, then fly to Seattle to interview for a Rhodes Scholarship that afternoon.
All that after he begins the interview process as a Rhodes finalist Friday in Seattle, then travels to Kentucky that night in time for the meet.
Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir said Tuesday the university received a waiver from the NCAA on the travel rule so Unterreiner can take a private plane — the only way to make this happen. There were no commercial flights that could get him from Kentucky to Seattle in time for the interviews with the selection committee.
Unterreiner will run his final collegiate race. If he receives the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, he would study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford next year in England.
The plane ride is being funded privately.
"It should be a great experience for him," Muir said. "We were able to make this happen through private support."
Unterreiner's parents live in Gig Harbor, Wash., south of Seattle, and will pick him up at the airport to get him to his interview. They are exploring alternate airports in both cities in an effort to speed up the process, as it will be a close call for him to make it.
He does have a three-hour time difference working for him. The race is 1:15 p.m. EST in Louisville, then he is due at his session in Seattle at 4 p.m. PST. The flight is expected to be four hours.
Unterreiner might be running a little late after running his 6.2-mile race for the second-ranked Cardinal, who captured the NCAA regionals last weekend.
His father, John, will fly to Louisville on Friday to meet up with his son for the race and return trip. His mother, Alison, will get him to and from the airport for Friday's interview in downtown Seattle — then be there to pick him up again Saturday in time to shuttle him to the second interview — or, if all goes as hoped, to the announcement of the two Rhodes recipients.
"This is something that has been a dream for him for a very, very long time," his father said Tuesday night by phone from Washington state. "When he started at Stanford, it was his dream to contribute to the cross country and track teams, and to study at Oxford and apply for the Rhodes Scholarship. To have them come together is really gratifying. He has shown an incredible amount of poise and clarity through this process, and we're very proud of him."
Scott Alexander, Stanford's associate director of development for major gifts, is a big reason everything came together so perfectly.
So far, anyway.
"There are a lot of people at Stanford and connected to the university that value the full 'scholar-athlete,'" Alexander said. "To me, it's not surprising to have that type of support, and there's no way this gets done without it."
Once Stanford received word from the NCAA that Unterreiner would be allowed to travel via private plane, he made the decision Monday night to accept the generous offer.
Stanford said Unterreiner was unavailable for comment Tuesday because officials with the Rhodes Scholarship requested he not do interviews that could sway an unbiased selection committee.
Unterreiner wanted to be there for his teammates in their final race — and his last.
"My team and my teammates have given me so much over the last four years that it's really tough for me to let them down at this really important point in the season by not being there," Unterreiner told the San Jose Mercury News. "There's no way I can't go to the national meet."
An All-American in track, his eligibility is already up in that sport. He comes by his running talent naturally as his mom competed in the first U.S. Olympic women's marathon trials in 1984.
Unterreiner earned a bachelor's degree in history with honors this past spring, and is currently working toward his master's.
"This is a great testament to all that Miles has accomplished both academically and athletically, when on the same day that he will be competing on a nationally championship level in athletics he also is a finalist for the most prestigious academic award there is," Cardinal cross country coach Chris Miltenberg said in remarks provided by the school. "That's a testament to how hard he's worked and also the great support he's gotten at Stanford to reach this high level."