Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". With so many seniors heading off to bigger and better things we wanted to give everyone a chance to salute them one more time as well as invite those seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. We will be posting this series through July, if you would like to submit check out this article.
High School: South Amboy
College: Rutgers University
What was your most memorable race/throw/jump/vault/moment?
After a disappointing end to my Junior Year where I failed to PR in Spring Track along with a few setbacks that I encountered early in the summer of my training in Senior year, I worked relentlessly to improve for my last cross country season of my high school career. Winning my school's first Group 1 State Championship was the most memorable race of my career. The struggle and adversity that I dealt with for over 6 months was really what made this victory so sweet. It's easy to train when you are feeling good and racing well. The grind of the sport starts to settle in when you face obstacles and the only thing that can truly fuel you at that point is the love for the sport. Coming across the line at Holmdel Park completed a goal that seemed so distant to me only a few months prior. In a field with extremely talent runners, it was a quality race that I will never forget.
Who would you consider your biggest competition over your four years?
My freshman and sophomore year of high school, my biggest rivals were actually within my own town at Cardinal McCarrick. We raced down at the Waterfront park, twice a season, to see who was the best team in South Amboy. Being South Amboy is a one square mile town, everyone knew everyone and the rivalry was so much fun. It also gave my team a goal to beat them and to try to win the GMC Blue Division championship in Cross Country for the first time in school history which we did in 2014. Ironically, my rivals ended up being my teammates during my Winter and Spring track seasons of my freshman year. Since my school didn't have track my freshman year, my coach volunteered his time and effort to coach me and I trained at Cardinal McCarrick everyday with the team. After McCarrick closed and I started to develop as a runner, my goals changed. My Junior and Senior year, I concentrated more on the Championship Races so I could deliver my best performances on the most important stages. Historically the great Metuchen HS became my next rival. They were in the same division, conference and section as me so I was able to see those boys a lot. The success that Metuchen has had over the years in Group 1 motivated me to work hard. They were always a deep team and I always tried to have my best races against one of the best programs in Group 1 running history.
What was your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was working with my Coach and parents to start up the track and field program in South Amboy. Starting something that will live on in my school even as I graduate is a great feeling. The fact that kids in the middle school look up to me as an athlete for the success I have had and kids are falling in love with a sport that has done so much for me is also a great feeling. The program will only continue to grow and thrive under the most caring, hard working and dedicated coach in the world, Coach Mecca. I can't wait to see kids chase after and catch the school records I set because that's what this sport is all about. Chasing times and being the best possible runner and person you can be.
If you could do it all over again what would you change about your running or field career in high school?
If I could change anything in my High School career, I would have not taken as many ice baths in the garbage cans and also tried to find a way to find a track my freshman year like I did in my sophomore year (thanks to Sayreville High School) instead of training on the concrete square. Other than that, I honestly wouldn't change much. Everyday my coach and I found new and innovative ways to improve with the limited resources that we had, it was a great ride.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?
The most difficult moment in my running career was over the summer of my senior year. I had a couple of medical problems and was hospitalized for a few days. During this time period, I really found my true love for running. The thought of not being able to train for a short time period really killed me. Coming back from the hospitalization was really difficult but I had my priorities straight and really wanted to have a successful cross country season so I healed, rested and then gave my training everything I had. In addition another obstacle I faced was my sophomore year when I had Osgoods from a huge growth spurt. I was able to run through it but I constantly limped when I actually wasn't running. Balancing training and doing rehab on my knee was really difficult but I was luckily still able to improve through the challenge. This obstacle benefited me in the long run because it was what made me stop training on the concrete and what really made me take the recovery side of running seriously.
What will you miss the most?
I'm going to miss all the athletes. I made a ton of great friends through this sport and have raced a lot of extremely talented runners and even better people. Especially the Greater Middlesex Conference which is a tight knit group of very gifted runners and I'm definitely going to miss seeing their familiar faces at Thompson Park, the Bubble, and OB track for our county championships. Hopefully I'll race or see them again during my career at Rutgers.
What advice would you give to younger athletes?
Hard work is the key to this sport. Whatever you put into it will come back to you ten fold. Maybe not always in the sense that you will finish first but the adrenaline you feel when you try to beat yourself is unmatched along with the people you will meet and the good times you will have. In life our biggest competition is ourselves and running is a metaphor for life. As long as you work hard and get a little bit better everyday, you are on the right track.
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
My coach was not only my history teacher, mentor, and trainer but he is also my friend. He is the reason that I have the opportunity and privilege to run in college. Without his constant guidance, tough love and incredible innovation and unique ideas I wouldn't be the runner I am today. If it wasn't for him I most likely would've pursued a high school career in baseball and would have never found my love for running. The fact that he dedicated his time for free my freshman year in winter and spring track is something that I will never forget and will always be thankful for. Without the influence of my coach, I wouldn't be the athlete or man I am today.
What are your college plans?
I will be running Cross Country and Track for Rutgers University and will be studying Engineering and possibly go on to Law School. Also, being that I am so close to home, I plan on running for a spot on South Amboy's Board of Education. I look forward to working hard and representing Rutgers and New Jersey the best I can. Can't wait to be racing for the boys in the Fall.
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
I would like to thank: my parents for always supporting me in anything and everything I do, Coach Mecca for the constant guidance and political talks, the South Amboy Board of Education for approving the track program, the boys for always having my back and making the miles not seem so long, my grandfather for guiding me through the rough patches from heaven, South Amboy High school for always supporting me through the good and bad times, Superintendent Diaz for coming to watch me at MOCs and working with the students to make South Amboy better everyday, Dakota Gerges for being an amazing girlfriend and for pacing a part of some of my workout reps, my sister, Mary Ann, for always coming to my races and taking over as Captain of the Cross Country Team, my Uncle Joe, Uncle Marty and Uncle Brian for supporting me and always giving me great advice, Sayreville High School for allowing me to use their track and last but not least - Milesplit, The Home News Tribune and NJ.com for their constant amazing coverage and the NJ track community for being the best people around.