Introducing the seniors: Garret Schmidt, Christian Palo, Tom Lorenc, James Reilly, and Griffin Gartner

At the very beginning of the season, I held a meeting with all senior members of the team to invite them to address their teammates during our daily team meetings, and to establish a schedule of who would speak when.  I explained that this was purely optional, though I knew that there was a lot of collected wisdom among their group, as together they had devoted thousands of hours in pursuit of improving at long distance running.  Over the past several days, I have sought to faithfully record the messages these seniors conveyed to their younger teammates, and have used the opportunity to sketch in a brief biography of each speaker.

Today, I’d like to highlight the last of our seniors.  For different reasons, each elected not to speak (in some cases, this is due to being soft-spoken by nature; in others, due to being new to the team; in Garrett Schmidt’s case, it was because he physically could not be at practice, having been confined to a hospital bed until just today, when he made his triumphant return).  There are five seniors I will profile.

Garret Schmidt joined us Sophomore year, a convert from soccer (we LOVE getting ex-soccer players!)  If you have been reading this blog, you know by now that Garret is a proud member of the “black group” and the members of that fraternity were thrilled to see him back in school today.  Garret has the capacity to be extremely tenacious while racing.  When he sets his mind to achieve a goal, he focuses intently on achieving it.  This has been evident the past two seasons in track, as he pledged to  help the team stay competitive in the ‘sub 5 challenge’ by breaking 5:00 for 1600.  To do that a third time will require an uphill climb, as Garret will be sidelined for some time while his lungs recover from the serious case of pneumonia he contracted this summer.  However, I know that so long as he is medically cleared, he will be up for the challenge.

Christian Palo is in his fourth year with the team.  Christian’s quiet and polite demeanor masks a genuine sense of humor that I have seen come out when he is among peers.  Christian is easy to work with, respectful, and man of many talents (and unlike his older brother Dylan, is not likely to forget to pack his track spikes on the day of an important meet!)  I recall one time trial workout where I had the occasion to run with Christian.  He had never broken 6:00 for the 1600 before, and I ran alongside him urging him on.  At 800, we were on pace, and I knew he could achieve his goal.  We kept up the pace, and when he crossed the line in 5:56, I was thrilled.  He’d broken through; run faster than ever before.  I hope he runs faster yet this season.

Tom Lorenc is a “newbie” – the only “first year senior” on our team.  I have only had about three weeks to get to know him, but I already like him a lot.  He is hard working, dedicated to his teammates, and already embracing cross country (he even got a logarun account!)  Tom has improved an astonishing amount in a very short time (to cite one example, in his first ever interval workout, he averaged 3:05 for 4*800…just one week later, he averaged 2:48!)  Tom is humble and eager to learn as much as he can about how to be a better runner.  I suspect he will surprise himself with how fast he becomes this season.

James Reilly’s forte is actually sprinting.  He is a very fast 200 and 400 meter runner – in fact, a conference champ at the Sophomore level in the one lap race.  James is running cross country primarily to keep his fitness level strong for the coming track season, when he hopes to help us earn an invitation to state in the 4*200 and 4*400.  As anyone who has run an all-out 400 knows, it is NOT an easy race.  James is tough.  I hope Cross Country make him tougher still.

Finally, we come to the end of the seniors with a profile of Griffin Gartner.  Like Reilly, Gartner began his career as a sprinter.  Sometime during his Sophomore track season, we realized he was a pretty good middle distance runner.  At outdoor conference, he pulled off a surprise 2nd place finish at the Sophomore level. The next year, as a junior, he came out for cross country for the first time, and showed flashes of potential, including earning a medal at the JV level at Locktoberfest.  During the following track season, he continued to improve. He was the surprise winner of an 800 time trial we held after Conference, and thus earned a spot in the Sectional 800.  I know he wants to help get the 4*800 onto the podium for the first time since 1998 this coming spring.  However, he may have a few important things to attend to before then – here is a guy with a legitimate chance at making the varsity top 7.  Can he do it?  Things will become a bit more clearer after the results are collated at the Hornet-Red Devil Invite this weekend!

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Introducing the seniors: Sean O’Flaherty and Alex Lambert

Sean O’Flaherty came out for Cross Country his freshman year and has been with us ever since.  If we gave out an award for ‘most likely to become a political analyst’ Sean would surely be the winner, as he often holds forth on current-event related topics during our recovery run (I always enjoy running with him, partially for this reason).  Sean is also a dedicated team member who has put in thousands of miles with his teammates over the years in his quest to become a stronger, faster runner. He spoke to his teammates about his own journey from being unsure about whether he wanted to commit to Cross Country to being proud that he did.

Sean began his remarks by acknowledging that, being one of the last seniors to speak, his remarks would not be so much original as a reinforcement of messages his senior teammates had already conveyed.  In particular, Sean wanted to further explore the theme that fun is fleeting, but the personal rewards of running cross country are long lasting  He remembered how he joined Cross Country freshman year thinking he would simply use the fall season to train for track, where he intended to be a sprinter.  However, after some success in early season races, Sean was moved up to one of the top three training groups and had higher expectations placed upon him.  At first, he was scared, and even asked to remain with the lower groups.  However, Coach Snee, who was in charge of those groups at that time, talked him into moving up.  Reluctantly, Sean began a harder training regiment.  Though the payoff was not immediate, it did come.  By track season, he had decided to remain a distance runner, and saw his 1600 PR drop from 5:50 to 5:01.  He also broke 11:00 for the 3200, a mark achieved by only a handful of freshman each year.  In conclusion, Sean asked any freshman who felt discouraged at this point in the season to simply continue working hard – and having faith that the results will come.

Our final senior to speak was Alex Lambert.  I did a brief search of the archives and discovered that by the end of his freshman year, Alex’s best 1600 was 5:41, and his best 3200 was 12:02.  By the end of his junior track season, he’d dropped those times to 4:55 and 10:56.  This is not surprising once you look at his running logs – he has been extremely consistent and hard working.  He did ‘polar bear running club’ in the winter every year, committed in the summer, and this year is on pace to join the 1000 mile club.  He’s lost all his baby fat and looks, now, like a true runner – fit and strong.  He has positioned himself to have an excellent senior season.

Alex began by telling all gathered, “call me ‘Lammie.'”  Introductions thus made, he went on to his speech, hearkening back to his freshman year.  He thought about what he wanted to hear from seniors three years ago, and decided that he would have wanted them to speak to him about possibility – about how more is possible when you are in 9th grade that you might realize (here, in a hilarious interlude, Alex quixotically remarked, ‘with a popsicle, anything is possible’ and first Stefan Rosas, than Joe Griffin, emerged from the audience to give him a dollar…)

Alex also discussed mileage.  He told freshman that over time, they will become faster, and they will become capable of running higher mileage (his first 3200 time trial result was 16:00 – he’ll be chasing low 10:00 this year).  As Alex is in the process of applying for college, he’s been thinking about what to write for his college essay and considering how he might stand out from the masses of other seniors he is competing against.  So he looked through his running logs.  He estimates that since he entered high school, he has run about 5445 miles, enough to run from New York City to Los Angelos and back.  Truly, how many student across America can say the same?

Introducing the seniors: Brendan Krupp and Austin Kleber

Brendan Krupp joined us Sophomore year.  It may have been because his family was friends with the Fayette family.  Like Billy Fayette, Brendan originally thought himself a tennis player.  I remember him that first year as being quiet, respectful, and slow.  He and Ben Anderson finished at the back of most workouts and meets.  Yet, as we always preach, it matters not where you start – and seeing Brendan improve these past two years, along with getting to know him better, has been a joy.

Brendan decided to talk to his teammates about ’embracing the process.’  He said, “it’s more than running.  It’s about getting better.  If you are here and you are dedicated, you will get better.  You’ll form relationships with guys that go beyond friendship.  It makes you more mature.  I know I am a different person today than when I first joined this team.”

 

Austin Kleber joined our team freshman year, though he’d fallen in love with running and dedicated himself to the sport long before that.  Austin’s journey has not been an easy one, as he’s had to overcome several injuries and illnesses along the way.  A major highlight came last year, as Austin came on strong towards the seasons end and earned all-conference at the JV level.  His performance at Proviso West that day also earned him a coveted spot among the top 12 runners who would make up the Varsity team for the state series.  He came as an alternate and learned a lot – and strives to apply those lessons this season.

Austin began by inviting all his teammates to call him “Kleber.”  His speech had three main themes.  First, he asked his teammates to respect each other.  He said “remember, everyone starts from the same point-crawling on the ground when we are babies.”  He suggested using positive encouragement to motivate teammates.  Secondly, Austin, directing his comments towards the east side of the room where the freshman gathered, offered as useful wisdom that it is important to “know your body.”  He reminded his teammates of the importance of learning the difference between discomfort (which one should strive to run through) and pain (which needs to be immediately addressed).  He mentioned the runners’ injury prevention ritual: stretching, rolling, sleep, ice.  Finally, Austin told his teammates to have fun, as “that is why we are here.”  He said that having fun and doing well go together.  All in all, Austin’s speech reminded me of the “4-H club” idea we’ve emphasized in past years: for an athlete to do well, they must be Healthy, Humble, Hungry, and Happy.  Only a veteran of the program would have been able to internalize and articulate those ideas to our newest members.  I hope, like Austin, that we can all be part of that club.

Introducing the seniors: Joe Griffin and Josh Feldman

Joe Griffin, or “Griffin III” as I like to call him (he is the youngest of three Griffin boys to run for our program) is one of the most well-liked, responsible, and improved members on our team.  Despite having to deal with asthma, an ailment most of his teammates don’t have to deal with, he has quietly and steadily gotten faster each year he has been with us.

Joe started his speech by updating the team on his very good friend and XC team member Garret Schmidt, who has been in the hospital for over a week due to a severe case of pneumonia he contracted this summer.  True to Joe’s character, he has been to visit Garret several times, and informed the team that Garret would be having surgery today, but expected to be back in school by next week.  Sadly, Garret will likely not be able to compete in any races this season, as his body will need time to recover, but he is very much part of the fabric of our team -as Joe alluded in his remarks.  Joe next said he wanted to address the “team aspect” of HCXC.  Of his teammates, he said, “these guys are the best; everyday I come to practice with a smile knowing I will be seeing them.”  He told a story of a run the ‘black group’ did together that came to be known as “Rio de Pobre.” Evidently, on a day when the team was to run the Western Spring Route, members of the black group found themselves by the stream that runs just east of I-294.  They spontaneously decided to build a damn across the river.  Then tried to cross it.  No one made it across dry.  Joe assured me they finished the proper mileage that day; more importantly, they had another cherished shared memory.  Says Joe about HCXC, “everyday is a new adventure.”

 

Josh Feldman is one of the most consistent athletes I have ever coached.  He is methodical in his training, and as a consequence has improved by leaps and bounds.  To cite one example, he ran 16:05 for 3200 in his first ever time trial.  By the end of his freshman year, he’d dropped this to 10:55.  By Sophomore track, it was down to 10:18.  At the end of last season he’d run 9:41.  And he’s only gotten stronger since then.  Josh has emerged as a quiet leader for our team, and has positioned himself to have a breakthrough senior season.

Josh started with a simple message: “stick with the program; give our sport a shot.  At the start is when it is the hardest; but it will become more fun as you improve and get faster.”  Josh recalled his very first practice, which was at Waterfall Glen.  He ran one mile out, and one mile back.  He was sweaty and exhausted and laid down on a picnic table for ten minutes.  He said that this feeling of total exhaustion did not go away, until, suddenly, it did.  Once the meets started, Josh started running personal best, and he began to understand the appeal of Cross Country.  He encouraged the freshman on our team to be patient, but to know that the work would pay off before the end of their first season.  When Josh was a freshman, we had a challenge for the freshman (first proposed by Mike Lyons): the “sub 5 challenge.”  If five freshman broke 5:00 for the 1600, we’d buy the entire team $5 footlong subs from subway.  This has never happened before.  Josh’s freshman class was the first to achieve it.  We shall see what they do now that they are seniors!

Introducing the seniors: Jeff Hopkins and Stefan Rosas

Jeff Hopkins has been with us from the beginning.  I have noticed a new seriousness in Jeff this season, as he has undertaken mileage levels higher than he’s ever managed before, continued to show great support of teammates, and already achieved a personal best 3200 time in our first time trial.  One of the qualities I’ve noticed that people most appreciate in Jeff is his sense of humor, yet in his remarks to his teammates, he opted to play it straight, reflecting honestly on his high school career to this point.

Jeff began by telling the team a bit of his history – for his first three years he worked with Coach John Snee (Late this summer, we learned Coach Snee had been offered a full time physical education position at a junior high school in Park Ridge.  While we will miss him dearly, we know that this is a good move for him and wish him the very best).  While Jeff loved being a member of the team, he acknowledges that he did not invest in training as hard as he could have.  He looks back with some regret on not using his time more productively.  His advice to freshman was simple yet poignant: “work hard and don’t screw around.”  As his coach, I would only add that though we cannot change the past, we can control our future.   I suspect that for Jeff, the best is yet to come.

 

Stefan Rosas, like Jeff, joined our team when he was a freshman.  Stefan has always been a hard worker, but his improvement has been more rocky than steady.  There is no doubt he is a much better runner now, but the journey hasn’t always been easy.  Stefan has dealt with injury and frustration often, but has really come into his own this summer.  He is on pace to run 1000 miles, an honor achieved by less than 12 athletes in all my time coaching here.  He has also been a great role model for younger kids, taking great pride in his training.

Stefan began by explaining to his teammates that he would leave discussions of mental toughness and race strategy to others.  Instead, he wanted to reflect on where he came from as a freshman.  That 9th grade year, Stefan was very quiet. He remembers entering room 155 and knowing not a single person.  Yet, today, he has formed a bond with several of his teammates that is truly unique.  This group of runners has come to be known as “black group.”  The black group referred to the third fastest group on last year’s team, and was composed of Stefan, Griffin Gartner, Joe Griffin, Alex Lambert, Brendan Krupp, Garrett Schmidt, Graham Reid, and a few others.  As Stefan acknowledged, the members of this group understood that it was unlikely they’d make the top 7.  However, they wanted to establish a strong tradition of “JV” runners taking pride in their performance (I put JV in quotation marks to denote that he is doing varsity level training, and indeed would be a member of the top 7 on many teams around the state).  Stefan expressed his appreciation for his teammates who have helped push him to a new level.  He said, “I wouldn’t have foreseen my freshman year how important this sport would become for me.  XC is a hard sell, but stick with it, and you’ll be surprised what it can mean for you.”  

Final anecdote: at the end of last track season, I was presented an honorary “Black group” jersey by Stefan and his groupmates.  It is a plain black jersey that says “Black” in white lettering on the front (how paradoxical) and “Lawrence” in white lettering on the back.  I wore it at the “Four on the fourth” race this summer – and wore it with pride.

Introducing the seniors: Sunil Dommaraju and Matt Tobia

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.

Introducing the seniors: Patrick Leahy and Matt McBrien

Patrick Leahy joined us as a freshman.  He comes from a running family, as his sister Colleen ran top 7 for the girls Varsity a few years back, and his twin sister Molly currently runs with Coach McCabe and the girl’s cross country team.  Patrick is an excellent student (I had him in class) and exhibits more school spirit than just about anyone.  He led the troops in offering support to the varsity top seven at the state meet last November.

Patrick urged his teammates to make the most of the four years they have at HC.  He offered the suggestion of finding someone close to them ability wise that could become a training partner, as the workouts become more manageable when you have someone to run with (for him, Sunil Dommaraju has sometimes been this person).  Patrick told the team, with genuine conviction, that everyone on who is a member of HCXC is important – as improvement is measured against yourself rather than others.  And he echoed previous seniors in describing his teammates as “really nice.”

 

Matt McBrien is also a four year member of our team.  His work ethic is tremendous, which as resulted in him earning a spot in the top 7 last year, where he finished 60th in state, the best 6th man of any team (in fact, he would have made top 5 for every other team).  Matt has been a true leader for us, in both word and deed.

He told the team the story of how he started running.  His family had moved from Denver when he was in middle school, nad his Mom informed him that she signed him up for summer running camp, so he could ‘stay in shape for tennis and la crosse.’  Matt recalled that he both liked and hated running.  He would come home after practice, lie on his couch, and complain.  He remembered one particular run early in his career.  It was at Graue Mill, and he was running with Graham Reid, who was a year younger and heading into 8th grade.  After three miles, Graham wanted to do more.  It was Matt’s first lesson in being pushed by a teammate.

His last story involved watching Kevin Huang at the Hornet Red-Devil invite, when Matt was a freshman and Kevin was a Sophomore.  Matt, new to the sport, had just run over 14:00 for a 3200 time trial.  He watched Kevin run in the season’s opening race and finish 7th overall in the Sophomore, and was in awe.  A year later, Matt himself was 7th.  And Matt and Kevin became bonded for life, two years later, as they both hoisted up at state championship trophy.