Athlete and Researcher Makes Award-Winning Strides
The trait that stands out when speaking with international cross country, track and field athlete and 2021 Mountain West Cross Country Champion Dario De Caro is humility. It’s almost like he doesn’t know that he is the 2021 Mountain West Men’s Student-Athlete of the Year, and is about to obtain his master’s while conducting critical research in biomechanical engineering.
De Caro hails from Torino, Italy. Before joining Boise State’s cross country team he received his bachelor’s from the Politecnico di Torino. He began running in a club in Italy in 2009. By 2016 he was collecting awards at international competitions across Europe.
Benji Wetli, Boise State assistant coach and recruiter, saw De Caro’s potential when he watched him run in Sweden at the European U23 Track and Field Championships in 2019. While a significant injury and the global pandemic slowed De Caro’s pace to Boise State, Wetli said, “the improvement he has made since coming to Boise is incredible.”
Since 2020, De Caro competed in the NCAA Cross Country Championships and earned Mountain West Indoor Track Athlete of the Week (twice).
“Dario is a very humble person and never seeks out the spotlight. One of the highlights of this year was seeing his teammates’ reactions to him winning the Mountain West Cross Country title,” Wetli said.
When De Caro is not training or competing, he conducts research in the Computational Biosciences Laboratory of Engineering, led by Associate Professor Clare Fitzpatrick. This lab focuses on applying computational models to understand the mechanisms of disease, injury and degeneration, and designing targeted treatment options and surgical interventions to address clinical issues and athletic performance.
“The lab is all around computational modeling, mostly around knee joint biomechanics. In the lab we are all focusing on different aspects, and my specific project is about dislocation,” De Caro said.
As a student-athlete, De Caro brings the knowledge and technical skills of a scientist to this research and his experiences as an endurance runner.
“It excites me because it connects my engineering aspect with the sports aspect,” De Caro said, adding that Italian universities usually place master’s students in the classroom, not the lab.
Stepping into the role of a contributing researcher was a novel and initially daunting experience.
“The first year was quite challenging because I had very basic knowledge about this research,” De Caro said, “but Clare helped me a lot. She’s really good at giving you confidence.”
De Caro worked hard, Fitzpatrick said. “This is all the more impressive given the training and traveling commitments associated with being a student athlete. Even when he is traveling, he is also working remotely and checking in with updates on his progress.”
De Caro earned his Master of Mechanical Engineering degree in Spring 2022.
—By Brianne Phillips, photo by Tyler McFarland