WICHITA, Kan. — Hard work and early mornings became a way of life for Desiraye Osburn Speer even before her record-setting days as a cross country and track and field student-athlete at Wichita State.
Speer grew up about 30 miles south of Topeka on a small chicken farm in Lyndon, Kan. In addition to raising chickens, her family rehabilitated wildlife by helping orphaned or injured animals return to the wild.
Assisting injured hawks, helping bats and hatching rattlesnake eggs became commonplace for the Osburn family.
"It was fun because I learned a lot about responsibility growing up that way," Speer said. "We couldn't go out and have fun unless we finished our chores. I'd have to get up at five o'clock in the morning to do chores before school, and even coming here (to WSU) having to get up at 6 a.m. was nothing to me. Living on a farm definitely inspired me.
"I was always running, always doing something."
Speer's drive and determination helped her evolve into one of the top female cross country and track and field athletes to ever compete for Wichita State, finishing her career as a four-time All-American and eight-time Missouri Valley Conference champion. She set seven individual Wichita State records and four conference records during her career and now becomes one of three former Shocker athletes being inducted into the Pizza Hut Shocker Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
"The remarkable thing about Desiraye Osburn is how much she improved over the course of her career," Steve Rainbolt, director of WSU track & field and cross country said. "Her development as an athlete was phenomenal - one of the most impressive demonstrations of commitment to improvement and toughness that I've ever been able to be a part of. "
Speer tried out almost every sport available during her childhood. From gymnastics and baton twirling at a young age, to volleyball and soccer later on, to basketball, weight lifting, cross country and track in high school.
She got involved with track after her basketball coach commented on how Speer would make a good runner. She tried out for the track team, aiming to run the one-lap 400 meters. Instead, she ended up running the 800 and the mile. For her first meet, she was unsure where to even line up on the track.
"They said, 'run two laps,' and I won both, so they had me running the 800 and the mile and I kept doing it and I kept winning," Speer said.
During her early running career, she remembers being told along the way that she would not make it to Division I.
"That was major motivation and I was going to prove them wrong, and I did," Speer said.
At Wichita State she received All-American status in cross country, the indoor mile and twice in the outdoor 5,000 meters. She still ranks among the all-time top 10 in eight track events at Wichita State and still holds a handful of school and conference records in cross country and track.
She won the 2005 MVC Cross Country Championships and became the first Shocker to win the NCAA Midwest Regional Cross Country Championships and be named Midwest Region Athlete of the Year. In 2005, she won the MVC indoor mile and outdoor 1,500. In 2006, she won the MVC indoor mile, 3,000, 5,000, as well as the MVC outdoor 1,500 and 5,000.
"Having Desiraye Osburn in our program was truly a foundation building block to all the success we've had in the track & field and cross country program since 2000," Rainbolt said. "She was incredibly focused and just a girl who did everything right along the way. You knew she would always get her training run in, eat correctly and get rest. She was a champion in every measure of the word."
Speer was named the MVC indoor most valuable and most outstanding athlete in 2006 and became a MVC scholar athlete in 2004, 2005 and 2006. She went on to represent the Shockers in both the NCAA cross country and track finals during her career.
"Nationals were always fun, but being with my teammates was the best," said Speer, who was named to the MVC Women's Track & Field and Cross Country All-Centennial Teams. "I enjoyed the Missouri Valley championships with my team. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed being All-American, but it was more memorable having a team championship with my teammates."
Speer graduated in 2006 with a degree in exercise science and began running professionally, traveling across the globe to compete. She finished second in the 5,000 at the 2006 NACAC Outdoor Championships in the Dominican Republic. She finished third in the 1,500 in Scotland in a 2007 meet featuring the USA vs. Great Britain.
She started running the steeplechase in 2007 and found almost immediate success. She won the event at the Drake Relays and finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the USA Championships. She finished fourth in the steeplechase at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil and third in the NACAC Cross Country Championships in 2007. She qualified for the World Cross Country Championships in Kenya in 2007 and for the 2008 Olympic Trials in the steeplechase. Fighting in nearby Somalia kept her from traveling to Kenya and foot trouble forced her to miss the Olympic Trials.
In the midst of competing, Speer married her former Shocker teammate Paul Speer, a Wichita State decathlete. One week after getting married, she was off to Rio de Janeiro for the Pan American Games.
"So my husband jokes that I went on a honeymoon without him to Brazil," Speer said. "That was pretty fun, but I was pretty happy to get home."
Speer currently is on a break from running professionally. She had and recovered from foot surgery. The Speers also recently had a baby. Son Braxtyn is just shy of turning 18 months old.
She works part-time as a personal trainer for Apex Personal Training in Wichita. She continues running and hopes to eventually race again professionally.
"I don't want to go race subpar," Speer said. "I want to be all there if I'm going to race. So, I'm taking my time. I'm only 27 and women peak in late 30s, so I have time. I'd like to get back into it eventually, but if I never do, he's (Braxtyn) worth it."
As she ponders her running future, she'll revisit her past success this weekend.
Family and some of her former teammates will travel to Wichita for the Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony.
"It's awesome. It's a huge honor," Speer said. "My teammates are coming down. It means a lot for them to come down because I like to have my teammates involved with everything that I did. I feel like they need to be here too because they helped me get to this point. It's a huge honor, and with them coming down, it means more to me."
-Lisa Johnson, WSU Media Relations