What was your most memorable race or moment?
My most memorable race had to be my last Meet of Champions. After a disappointing fall and winter, it was my goal to go out on top with a decisive win against my competitors. Once the gun went off, however, I knew that it would not be an easy task to run fast, let alone win, given my respiratory condition going into the race. Despite this, I held the competition at a fairly slow pace by taking the lead and doing something I've never done before in a race of such high caliber... sitting and kicking.
With one lap to go, I gave it everything I had while remembering all the pain and embarrassment a near loss and actual loss had brought me over the past two seasons. I would not let the same thing happen a third time. Once I crossed the line for my sixth MOC title (and first real one for the year in my mind), I felt the greatest sense of relief I've felt in a long time. With my friends and teammates coming on the track to congratulate me, I took in the finality of it all.
Who would you consider your biggest competition over your four years?
I can't even come close to saying there was one single rival I've had over the last four years, so I will break it down by grade, and season if need be.
- Freshman year XC: Acasio Pinheiro - Although we only raced against each other at the MOC that year, I always was in a competition with you to be considered the top freshman in the state. When you beat me at MOC, I told myself I would do everything I could to not lose to someone in my grade again that year. Thank you.
- Freshman year Track: Dylan Peters - Even though you were my teammate, I did see you as competition. Seeing how hard you worked everyday without saying anything taught me how to put my head down and work. You were the only teammate I've had over the last four years that I could consistently train with learn from everyday. Thank you for that.
- Sophomore year XC/Track: Mike Ungvarsky - After losing to you so many times freshman year, I decided to make it a point to try to beat you that year. Despite my sectional win, you came back at groups and gave me one of the best races of my career, pushing me to run under 16 minutes at Holmdel for the first time. I'm glad we could become friends off the track as well. Thank you.
- Sophomore and Junior year XC/Track: Damien Dilcher - I remember seeing you run when I was a freshman, thinking to myself how great of a runner you were going up against these big names in NJ track as a just a sophomore. I think you and I share the characteristic to never count yourself out of a race until it's over. Going to Footlocker nationals with you as two ocean county guys was an experience I'll never forget. More importantly, I'm glad you and I are great friends off the track. Thank you for everything.
- Sophomore Year Track: Chris Romero - Whenever I ran against you I knew I was in for a close race. Sophomore year when we ran 4:09 for the 1600 was one of the most memorable races of my life. I can not think of a race where I have pushed myself harder than in that one. On top of that, we had great battles at groups and MOC in XC and in indoor track at groups that year. Thank you.
- Junior Year XC/Track: Will Hare - At cross country camp in the fall I guess you could say we were rivals who didn't really like each other, but we respected each others' running ability nonetheless. I'm glad you and I had a rivalry that fall because it fueled me to have the best cross country season of my life. Thank you.
- Senior Year: By far the toughest competition I faced senior year came from Jack Stanley and Liam Murphy. In the fall, Jack put together a brilliant race at Holmdel, nearly upsetting me at the line for one of the greatest XC races of all time, and he then followed that up with a regional title and a top ten finish at Footlocker. These two (three) losses put me at a low point in my career and had me doubting both my training and myself. That winter, I worked harder than I'd ever worked in the hopes of redeeming myself at MOC and nationals. I hit a solo sub 9 at sectionals which made me believe MOC would be an easy victory. I did not expect Liam Murphy to upset me that day; I don't think anyone did. I want to thank these two for giving me the motivation to continue training hard and teaching me to lose, something I hadn't had to face in a long time at the state level.
What was your greatest accomplishment?
Winning six MOC titles.
If you could do it all over again what would you change about your running or field career in high school?
I'm where I am today because of what I did over the last four years. I would change nothing.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?
Learning to deal with loss and defeat despite your best efforts is always something I've had trouble dealing with. If you dwell on losses it will only drive you crazy. I had to learn to channel the anger and sadness from defeat into something worth while.
What will you miss the most?
I'll miss my teammates and other friends I've made along the way. You guys have made this experience something I'll never forget.
What advice would you give to younger athletes?
Athletes or parents come up to me at meets or message me a lot and ask how they can run as fast as I do. What I first say to them is that there is no secret plan, workout, or special training regimen that will necessarily make you any better.
The key to reaching your full potential is putting in the work and making an honest effort everyday to improve yourself. There are no shortcuts that can be taken. A lot of times people, including myself, fall into this trap where they believe they are doing all they can do to improve, when in reality they are simply doing the same thing because they are comfortable with it.
To get better, you need to be uncomfortable. My coach's workouts weren't very technical or complex oftentimes, and that is what I loved about them. They would be grueling and tough to complete. Almost the entire time I would be uncomfortable with the pace I was running at... but that's the point. I was rarely given paces to run at or splits to hit, rather, I would base everything on effort. Simply put, if you put in an honest effort everyday, you will improve at whatever you're doing in life.
Lastly, and most importantly, have a reason why you're running. For me, it wasn't so much because I loved to run. It's because I am a competitor who hates to lose more than I like to win. When I lose a race I take it as a personal attack on my commitment to the sport and how hard I work. If someone beats me consistently it either means they have more talent or trained harder than me. Either way, the solution to beat them is to work harder.
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
Coach Conheeney has acted as both a father figure and a mentor for me over the past 4-5 years of training with him. Words can not explain how grateful I am to have had this man in my life. So, here is an essay I used for a scholarship explaining the impact he has had on my life.
Throughout my high school career, I have had the pleasure of working with dozens of coaches and teachers on and off the track. Each one has contributed in their own way to my success as a student athlete. And while some have done more or less than others, my coach Kevin Conheeney has had the most profound impact on my life, guiding me to grow not only as an athlete, but as a person as well.
From the time I first met Coach Conheeney, I knew that he genuinely cared about his runners' wellbeing, regardless of how fast they could run. What struck me as most admirable was the patience he showed towards people who did not see their potential as athletes and therefore did not train very hard.
Rather than give up on them, he continued to encourage them every step of the way. To many, this may seem like a classic coaching approach, but to me, an inexperienced freshman, I saw it as a contrast to my own belief in how people should train and be coached. To me, at that time, if people did not use their talent and abilities to their full capabilities, they were wasting their time with the sport.
I had no patience with people and would often grow frustrated watching those around me not give their full effort. On top of that, my training style also lacked patience or restraint, leading to a string of injuries and setbacks during my first two years of running in high school. It took a while for Coach Conheeney to instill the virtue of patience and smart training into me, which culminated in a series of memorable seasons over the last two years.
On a much more lasting scale, Coach Conheeney taught me to have balance, not just in running as aforementioned, but in life. Through the countless hours we've spent together at practice and meets, our relationship has evolved from that of an athlete and a coach to that of two close friends. Had it not been for this great man's guidance and wisdom, my life would be dramatically different; I would have never learned to let off the gas and just relax in training and life or to be content with things that I can not change in life, no matter how much I want them to. Going into college next year, I will continue to live by the lessons he has taught me, which I believe will bring a life of happiness and fulfillment.
What are your post-high school or college plans?
I will be attending Stanford University while majoring in either computer science or bio-engineering.
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
Thank you to Coach Cancro, Coach Schlentz, Coach Kostenko, Coach Colonna, and any other coach that I've had the pleasure to train with.
Thank you to my friends, most notably Sarah, Hannah, Colleen, and Amanda, as well as my teammates Paul, Luke, Dan, Danny, and Dylan.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?