ELMWOOD PARK — Guerin senior Nick Gerena has come a long way during the last two years.
Gerena didn’t compete in any sports during his freshman year, but as a sophomore he was talked into joining the cross country team by coach Earl Danan. Gerena had no history of running, and his first experiences didn’t go well.
“I could run about two miles and then I had to stop for a bit and walk,” Gerena said. “The team was very accepting back then, but they would push us hard.”
Gerena was able to run a three-mile race in around 25 minutes during his first season. He stuck with the sport, joined the track team and started running year round.
The hard work paid dividends. While Guerin has a small team this year, Gerena is the top runner and his times have dropped way down.
At the Metro Suburban East Pre-Conference Meet hosted by Elmwood Park, Gerena completed the three-mile course in a personal-record 20:32 to finish 55th of 88 runners.
“I think the season is going fantastic,” Gerena said. “I was running around 23 [minutes] to start the season, but I kicked it into gear and got my time down. We don’t have a true [varsity] boys team at the moment but the girls are doing really well and I think I am too.”
The lack of numbers at Guerin is hampering Gerena.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “Not having someone to pace me is really tough. Paul [Robertson] was one of my teammates last year and he would push me so much. I would try to get in front of him but he would never let me. That helped push me so much.”
The football team has drawn more participants with former Chicago Bears wide receiver Glen Kozlowski taking over as coach. With Guerin being such a small school —around 250 boys — that leaves fewer athletes for the cross country team to recruit. The Gators had only three boys competing in the meet at Elmwood Park.
“I definitely think the cross country program could be really strong if more people joined it,” Gerena said. “We’d love to take football players and put them on the cross country team. It’s not fair but it’s still a fun time.”
“We had some great seniors last year but they graduated,” Danan said. “I think a lot of kids get discouraged from joining the team because in junior high running is a punishment. They just hate running from the get-go.”
Regardless of how many runners are on the team, Gerena, who is also on the wrestling team, is determined to have a strong senior year.
“Being my last year I’m just going to run as hard I can and work hard throughout all my sports,” Gerena said. “I definitely want to run around 17:00 or really anywhere in the 17s.”
Danan is excited to see what Gerena can do because he’s already come so far.
“He’s really grown into the sport,” Danan said. “He practiced during the summer and I know he wants to get down in the 17s. He’s making progress and it’s right there for him.”