Sunil Dommaraju has been with us from the beginning. He joined the team as a freshman, and, by his own admission, was the slowest guy on the track. It is not where you start, it is how much you grow from that point. Sunil is, without a doubt, one of the most improved athletes on our team. He has come an amazing distance by running an amazing distance over his three years. Sunil has an excellent work ethic, is very involved in several school activities, and is incredibly well-spoken for someone of his age. To give some context for his remarks, I should note that on our first day of school, we had an assembly for all students and teachers featuring a guest speaker named Mawi Asgedom. Mawi’s family fled his war-ravaged homeland of Ethiopia when he was a child, and immigrated to the United States. From these humble beginnings, Mawi rose to become the commencement speaker of his Harvard graduating class, and a best selling author. The highlight of his speech for members of our team was when he informed the entire crowd of over 2500 students that he lived in Elmhurst and knew how good York was, and gave a ‘shout out’ to Hinsdale Central Cross Country for besting the Dukes and winning state last season. He had been a member of the cross country team when he was in high school (at Wheaton North) and knew what an accomplishment our state title was. In his speech to the Hinsdale Central student body, Mawi gave three challenges. Sunil decided to structure his remarks similarly.
Sunil began by pointing out that in his freshman year, for his very first time trial, he ran 4 laps in 9:30. He told the freshman that he had looked at their time trial results, and no one was as slow as he was. He said “I didn’t get discouraged or embarassed” and chose instead to dedicate himself to getting better. This led to three challenges he gave his teammates:
#1) Commit to the team for the long run – You’ll learn to tolerate pain and become stronger. Recognize that we all start at a different pace. Be patient, but know that the drops in time will come.
#2) Make goals for yourself – Goals give you a purpose for running. You should have both short and long term goals. They should be appropriate for you. Sunil pointed out that 6-7 years ago, the goal for HC was simply to qualify for state. Once that was achieved, it was to be in the top half, then to earn a trophy.
#3) Find someone to help you achieve your goals. For Sunil, Nick Midlash has been his best training partner. Nick and Sunil hold each other accountable and help push each other. They can achieve more working together than either could alone.
Sunil concluded by recalling a particular workout from his freshman year when he was running repeat quarters in about 2:15, and losing repeatedly to Coach Kupres’ daughter, who was then about 6 years old! He’s come a long way, and will be aiming to break 5:00 by the end of this year.
Matt Tobia also has been with the team since freshman year. Matt has solid credentials, with track times of about 2:02 for 800 and 4:40 for 1600. Matt spent several weeks this summer taking classes at Columbia University in New York. I had the opportunity to run with him there on one occasion, as I was also in New York for a conference. It was on our run together through beautiful central park that I realized how quietly committed Matt was to his teammates. Though he was taking a full load of college-level classes, he was getting up each morning before his classmates to do workouts. He was basically living as an adult. It could not have been easy, and I truly gained a respect for his self-discipline.
Matt began by telling us that he’d been waiting for this opportunity since his freshman year when he sat watching those seniors address him, and he was excited to finally have his ‘big moment.’ He began with two seemingly contradictory statements: “running sucks” and “this is the greatest sport in the work, and no one who has been a part of it has any regrets.” We understood his point – running is hard work, and often painful, but the feeling you get after conquering a difficult workout or achieving a long sought goal is something you can’t find anywhere else. Matt then went on to quote Robert Deniro from A Bronx Tale: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” He said he appreciated XC because it is a sport that forces us to see how strong we really are. He said he and his teammates have “grown a ton” since they were young freshman, and he was proud that he’s stuck it out through the tough times.