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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

For most first-year student athletes, being new means starting at the bottom.

Few see the field, fewer contribute in a meaningful way and fewer still are considered leaders of the team.

It can sometimes take years to make it into the starting rotation — if it even happens at all.

And as for leadership, seniority is more often than not a major determining factor.

For Charles Chambers, who’s in his first year running cross country for UF, starting at the bottom isn’t really an option.

Unlike most first-year runners, he doesn’t have the luxury of looking towards next year or saying things like "down the road."

He’s got one season to accomplish his goals as a Gator, and he’s hoping to make every moment — both on and off the terrain — count.

• • •

While graduate transfers aren’t anything new to collegiate athletics, Chambers transferred from nearly 10,000 miles away, coming to Gainesville from his native Gold Coast, Australia.

Back in Australia, Chambers was one of the best runners in the country while running in the continent’s club circuit.

But while he’s certainly an accomplished athlete, Chambers knew that coming to the U.S. meant that he’d face a whole new level of competition.

"It’s a totally new field, really. I mean, I was sorta top eight, top 10 in the country and here I’m third, fourth, fifth on the team," he said.

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Andrew Ferris, who coached Chambers for six years leading up to his coming to the U.S., said that for Charles, just being part of the team is more important than individual accolades.

"While he wants to do well himself, he wants to see everybody else that he’s involved with do really well as well," Ferris said.

"He probably cares more about what the team does than what he does himself."

Chambers indirectly echoed that sentiment when asked about his goals for the season.

He never spoke a word about what he hoped to accomplish, choosing instead to focus on what the team is shooting for — succeeding in the Southeastern Conference.

"The big goal for us is win SECs and basically get ourselves to NCAAs," he said.

And while adjusting to the new level of competition in the NCAA and in the SEC was certainly something that Chambers was prepared to do, he had other challenges on the horizon.

"In addition to moving all the way across the world, I guess it’s also the first time I’m living out of home," Chambers said.

"So (that means) dealing with my own cooking and cleaning and just little things that I probably totally overlooked."

In addition to the adjustments that everyone faces when they first leave home, he also pointed to one that perhaps isn’t as expected.

"The other thing is probably just not having to repeat myself a thousand times," he said.

"I find with a lot of people on the team, they don’t always understand what I’m saying. It’s fun though."

UF cross country coach Paul Spangler was quick to jump on a question about some of the Australian words or phrases that Chambers uses.

"Niggles" he said with a grin. "That’s a good one."

"(He’ll say) ‘this is sore — I got a niggle in my knee or a niggle in my foot’ and we’re like ‘what?’"

Redshirt senior Eddie Garcia is also quick to point out some of Chambers’ Australian idioms.

"He calls track workouts ‘sessions,’" Garcia said, adding that "instead of afternoon, he’ll say ‘arvo,’ like ‘see this arvo?’"

Minor confusion and annoyance aside, Garcia said that Chambers’ thick Australian accent is definitely a source of positivity more than one of confusion.

"We actually took him to Outback Steakhouse … and we had a fun time there. We had a waitress and we kept trying to get him to talk in his Australian accent and he kept trying to mask it," Garcia said.

"We always try to get him to use it [his accent] to his advantage because American girls, they like guys with Australian accents. He never really believes it."

• • •

Leadership is perhaps not expected of — but usually coincides with — the oldest members of a team.

For Chambers, a traditional, vocal leadership role is pretty much out of the question being that he was as new to the team as any freshman.

And he knows that.

"I feel like I’m essentially a freshman in a lot of regards anyway," Chambers said.

"I don’t have the words of wisdom because I haven’t been here before. I don’t know what to expect and I can’t really lead the younger guys through it."

That being said, Spangler still believes that Charles has made strides in the realm of leadership during his short time at UF.

"Even though Charles has been here for less than a year, the guys on the team … see him as an equal because he is as hard-working as they are," Spangler said.

Garcia, one of the team’s unquestioned leaders, says that Chambers’ leadership role expands even further than life experiences.

"He’s more like a silent leader. He leads by example," Garcia said.

"Other guys kinda try to mold off of him too. He’s a good example for the younger guys to follow."

• • •

It’s somewhat unfortunate that Chambers only has one cross country season at UF, because by all accounts, he’s enjoyed his time in Gainesville very much.

"He loves it. He really, really enjoys it," Ferris said.

"As much as he misses home, he enjoys where he’s at at the moment more."

Chambers himself has found that beyond his experiences on the track and terrain, the overall experience of living here has benefitted him more than he thought it would.

"I came over here primarily for the running, but I’ve probably taken a lot more out of it than that," he said.

And as much as he’s enjoyed being on the team, the team has enjoyed having him just as much.

"We love Charles. Jimmy [Clark] and I are really close with Charles," Garcia said.

"It’s definitely been a lot of fun having him on the team."

When he does end up going back to Australia, Chambers hopes to be in better shape as a runner and to put up good results on the Australian domestic circuit.

For now, though, he has his eyes set on this season, on a potential SEC championship and on making sure that he makes his last year count.

"I guess I feel like I need to get it right this season," Chambers said.

"I don’t have another season to fall back on."

Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri


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