He’s an All-American, a former state champion and according to his Twitter page, "faster than 80 percent of all snakes."
To Ron Helmer and at least one of his coaching peers, Kyle Mau will always be known for a significantly important, but not particularly hygiene-friendly role.
Ready for this one? The 2015 Hudson graduate is a ... garbage man.
"At any sort of meet, we want to make sure our team area is clean of all trash," said Mau, who is a redshirt senior on the University of Indiana’s cross country and track and field teams. "I’ve kind of gotten into a habit of doing it every meet."
When it comes to this celebrated "dustman," Mau’s career in Bloomington will never be considered "a load of rubbish."
Helmer, on the other hand, believes a certain, popular old saying sounds far more appropriate when it comes to describing his favorite "waste collector."
"One man’s trash is another man’s treasure."
"Kyle and [teammate] Ben Veach did the victory lap and then they started picking up trash," said Helmer, who has been the Hoosiers head cross country and track and field coach since 2007. "That says a lot about who they are."
Interestingly enough, Mau and Veach may have tried to be as inconspicuous as possible during their pursuits to "come clean."
Unfortunately, their attempts to remain in anonymity proved to be one "hot mess."
That’s not such a bad thing, though.
Mau and Veach performed their cleaning services moments after Indiana won the Big Ten Indoor Championships, which concluded Feb. 29 at the Spire Institute in Geneva.
Mau did his part by finishing third in the 5,000-meter race. You could make the case that he did something even more impressive 24 hours earlier.
On the first day of the competition, the unmarried Mau did something that would make even the most demanding wife swoon.
He took out the trash.
"I thought nothing of it," Mau said. "It’s something Coach Helmer emphasizes: keep your area clean when you leave the meet."
The two standout distance runners’ janitorial duties did not go unnoticed even though their coach was elsewhere.
Helmer missed the first day of the competition due to another significant matter. The longtime coach traveled to Washington, D.C., for his induction into Georgetown University’s Hall of Fame.
When Helmer made it to Geneva, an opposing coach couldn’t wait to tell him the news.
Let’s just say Larry Bird or the late Muhammad Ali would have approved this conversation.
That’s because it was "trash talking" at its finest.
"The Wisconsin coach, Mick Byrne, told me how impressed he was at how well our guys competed," Helmer said. "He was more impressed to see Kyle and Ben throwing things away when everyone was leaving the building. When two of your best athletes clean up the area, that shows what kind of culture we have."
The 22-year-old Mau probably won’t be disposing solid waste for a living when he leaves the 200-year-old public research university.
Mau earned a sports marketing management degree and a minor in business last year. He is currently taking graduate courses in Bloomington and plans to earn a master’s degree in athletic administration and sports management next spring.
Mau’s senior season was cut short by an invisible plague that has turned the entire globe upside down.
Due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as the coronavirus, the NCAA Indoor Championships were canceled. Mau was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to compete in the 3,000-meter race when the decision was made.
"Once the NBA canceled, other leagues followed suit," he said. "At that point, I was thinking, ‘This isn’t going to happen.’"
The news was particularly distressing for Helmer, who strongly believed his standout pupil had a chance to capture a coveted gold medal.
"We thought we had him set up," he said. "He ran some really good races. We held him out of the distance medley and the mile. He was going in fresh, which put him in the driver’s seat."
Instead, Mau packed his bags before making the long, brutal trip to Bloomington.
"I was bummed out," he said. "I thought we were going to have a really good meet. We were in a good position since we won the Big Ten title."
Mau’s unexpected inactivity has been prolonged indefinitely.
A short time later, the NCAA canceled the entire season for all of the spring sports as the virus continued to spread rapidly throughout the nation.
Thankfully for Mau, his days of wearing the crimson and cream won’t be heading to the garbage disposal.
Since the NCAA is granting another year of eligibility for athletes who participate in the spring, Mau is planning to compete for Indiana’s outdoor track team in 2021. By the way, the 2015 state 3,200-meter champion was named a first-team All-American after finishing eighth in the 5,000-meter race at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships.
Mau will jump at the chance to run one more season for his beloved Hoosiers. He also knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
Since a college degree sets you on a path to take on the real world, some of Mau’s former teammates will have to hang up their racing shoes for good.
"One of the hardest things about this situation is, even though the NCAA granted an extra year, you have to get on with your life," Mau said. "For me, it’s OK since I’m in grad school, but others are seeing their careers end prematurely. That’s really difficult."
Mau’s last "completed" season ended rather nicely.
He finished 12th at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships last November in Terre Haute, Indiana.
"He had a great national meet," Helmer said. "He had a good Big Ten meet and a good season. He was in the mix every time. At the National Championships, he was on a mission. He put himself where he needed to be. It was one of the best races he had ever run."
Mau could have several more chances to surpass that legendary performance. If the stars align, he may consider a professional career as a distance runner.
For now, though, Mau will continue practicing social distance and focus on completing his education. He’ll likely go for a run or two as well.
Once life gets back to normal, you can be sure this neat freak will be seeking the ultimate prize when he returns to the track.
And if he does find himself on top of the podium, forgive Mau if he decides to vanish rather quickly to find a broom or a dust pan.
When it comes to this heralded "sanman," 19th-century French sculptor Auguste Rodin might have said it best.
"Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely."
"If our team area is messy, all of the guys on the team need to clean it up so no one else has to pick up after us," Mau said. "It’s something I believe is important to do."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.