TIMES 2013 MALE CO-ATHLETE OF THE YEAR

Grant Nykaza is Times Illinois Male Co-Athlete of the Year

2013-07-03T17:00:00Z 2014-07-05T17:15:06Z Grant Nykaza is Times Illinois Male Co-Athlete of the YearPhil Arvia Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
July 03, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

Grant Nykaza heartily endorses the concept of the runner's high — that elusive feeling that comes to some, when the pain and the breathing and the footfalls melt away into a sort of cardio-induced bliss.

"For sure, there's a runner's high out there," the Beecher cross country and track star said. "Just technically, it's from the endorphins that are released by exercise.

"But, to me, sometimes, I'll be running and I'll just randomly smile. My legs will feel good, I'll feel good, I'm out for a 10- or 12-mile run and it just randomly makes me happy."

On the flip side …

"There's times when it really sucks, too," he said. "But it's worth it."

Which brings us to Nov. 3, 2012. There was no smiling as Nykaza prepared for the Class 1A State Cross Country championship race. There was angst. Four years worth.

"My freshman year, when I was second, everyone told me, 'You have three more years,'" he said. "My sophomore year, they said, 'You have two more years.' Last year, it was 'You have another year.'

"This time I didn't have any more years. I already had state championships in track — on the 4 x 800 relay when I was a freshman and sophomore, in the 1,600 as a junior — but I didn't have one as an individual in cross country."

No. He had a fourth as a sophomore and another second as a junior. And this time, he had Mount Zion's Jake Brown.

"He'd run a 14:38 earlier in the year," Nykaza said. "My fastest at the time was 14:36."

They ran together for 10 minutes. Then Nykaza separated, a not-so-random smile creeping to his lips.

He finished first in 14:22, 18 seconds better than Brown. An easy win on the clock.

"That was the toughest for me," Nykaza said. "Mentally, it was the toughest."

In the spring, Nykaza added the Class 1A 3,200 and 1,600 titles on the track, a rare triple crown that earned him a place beside Crete-Monee's Laquon Treadwell as the Times' 2012-13 Boys Co-Athletes of the Year.

In all, since the state track meet went metric in 1979-1980, there have been 70 opportunities across three classes for a runner to win a cross country, 1,600 and 3,200 title in a single school year. Nykaza became just the ninth runner to manage the feat.

At the May 25 state track meet, he won the 3,200 by 15 seconds, in 9:10.02, and the 1,600 by four seconds, in 4:23.28. In all, he finished his high school career with six state gold medals, the track relays as a freshman and a sophomore joining all his individual accomplishments as secondary titles compared to his favorite — the team cross country championship in 2010, when he was a sophomore and his brother, Griffin, a senior, finished eighth.

"Each title is special, but there's no greater feeling that winning it all as a team," Nykaza said. "I never felt so great in my life than when we won it as a team.

"Even now, I tell people who win team titles, 'Make sure to soak it all in. It goes by too fast.'"

Indeed. Not three weeks past the state track finals, Nykaza was off to Florida State to prepare for a freshman year running cross country and track. He swears he doesn't know what the coaches have in store for him. But he clearly has a preferred emphasis.

Asked if he favors track or cross country, he said, "Cross country, 100 percent. That's an easy question for me.

"I feel like I'm a faster runner on grass. I think it's just because I'm a (physically) stronger runner than most."

Once track season rolls around, Nykaza, who turns 18 in August, has options.

"I feel like I could be a good steeplechase guy," he said. "There's obstacles — I feel like that's what I need on the track. Possibly, I could even do the 10,000 meters. I feel like the longer I go, the stronger I get."

And the guy from a little Class 1A school has plans to go far.

"It'd be nice to run in the 2020 Olympics," he said. "It won't hurt believing in that dream.

"And if people doubt me, it was still fun while everything was going."

Cue the random smile.

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