Cheserek Named 2012 Gatorade National Runner of the Year (Updated)
Cheserek Named 2012 Gatorade National Runner of the Year
New Jersey star runner takes home national honor after securing second straight national title
Story by Steve Underwood
1/23/2013 updated 1/23/2013
After his stellar unbeaten cross country season of 2011 – seven course records and a Foot Locker title – there was one honor that eluded Edward Cheserek. Thanks, however, to the work he did both on and off the course in 2012, there was no chance of this honor going to anyone else this time.
The St. Benedict’s (Newark, N.J.) senior saw his Wednesday early morning physics class hijacked by Gatorade officials and 3-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, all of whom were on hand to present him with the 2012 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award. This was in keeping with the Gatorade tradition of “surprising” honorees during a typical school day and following with an assembly of which school personnel are aware, but is kept secret from the athlete until the last moment. An elite athlete is always part of the surprise, and Ritzenhein, who prepped in Michigan and captured Foot Locker titles in 1999 and 2000, probably would have won the award at least once himself if it existed at the time.
“They surprised me a lot,” said Cheserek. “I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is awesome’ ... I watched Dathan in the Olympics.”
Cheserek won his second Foot Locker Finals title this past December, clocking 14:59 and completing another unbeaten season. In 2011, Cheserek ran even faster in San Diego, outkicking Futsum Zeinasellassie for a 14:52 victory, wrapping up a campaign that featured seven major course records. However, the Gatorade award – based on a combination of performance on the course, classroom achievement and community service – went to Zeinasellassie (North Central, Indianapolis, Ind.) a senior who also had won Nike Cross Nationals.
“We didn’t dwell on it,” said St. Benedict’s Coach Marty Hannon of last year’s Gatorade outcome. “But we did dwell on academics this past fall, to make sure Edward is ready for college. We wanted to make sure all of his academics were in place.”
Dr. Hannon announced in August that Cheserek would be held out of racing at least after his SAT test, instead concentrating on his classwork to ensure he could continue his career at the NCAA level. After the SAT test in early October, the Kenyan-born harrier debuted in the Eastern States race at Manhattan, laying to rest any doubts about his fitness with a victory that was just a few ticks shy of his 2011 course record.
From then on, it was a relatively clear path to a return trip to the Foot Locker Finals, with victories in the Essex County Championships, his Prep A state championships, and Foot Locker Northeast. In San Diego, he joined Ritzenhein as the only back-to-back champ to break 15:00 in both victories, as well as joining him as one of four repeat winners overall.
Gatorade cited Cheserek for the volunteer work he has done at the St. Mary’s Parish food pantry, which is in association with the Newark Abbey monastery, and for maintaining a ‘B’ average in the classroom.
“When you aim for something, you have to work hard,” said Cheserek. “I made sure I would pass my classes.”
Dr. Hannon said the award was “gratifying. We talk with all of the kids in our program about the importance of balancing running, academics and community service.” He noted that in the morning assembly for the presentation, St. Benedict’s Headmaster Father Edwin Leahy (“Father Ed”) said “The good Lord has a plan for all of us,” and reflected upon how “four or five years ago, a Jersey City fundraiser involving African orphans” started a series of events that brought Cheserek to the school.
Cheserek and Dr. Hannon also committed in the fall to holding off college visits until after the season, and they say he has now visited Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona, University of Oregon, and University of Portland. He’ll make a final visit to Villanova University.
As far as Cheserek’s racing plans, as was announced earlier, the harrier will make his second appearance at the Millrose Games, racing the two-mile against the elites. Last year, Cheserek ran 13:57.04 in the Millrose 5,000, won by Bernard Lagat, to set the high school record.
Cheserek also plans to race the high school mile at the New Balance Games this weekend (he ran the mile with elites last year), and some combination of events at New Balance Nationals Indoor.
Dr. Hannon agreed that Cheserek may be fresher than this time last year, given the lighter fall racing schedule, but called it a “double-edged sword.” Due in part to the college visits, there hasn’t been much hard track work to this point, he explained. “But Edward always surprises me.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport. In addition to athletic excellence, the award recognizes academic achievement and exemplary character on and off the field.
This year celebrates the program’s 28th anniversary. In that time, Gatorade has honored more than 11,000 State Players of the Year and more than 236 National Players of the Year, including many of today’s top professional athletes, such as Peyton Manning, Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh, Derek Jeter, and Emmitt Smith. For more information, visit www.playeroftheyear.gatorade.com.