2012 Olympics: Running down a dream

May 25, 2012

Nick Stanko is a small guy with a shaved head. He’s an art teacher at Haslett High School, east of Lansing, and he also coaches the track team.

Stanko is hard-core about running. He’s tried out for the Olympic team twice and even the kids on his track team admit he’s a big deal. Senior Ryan Beyea told me he likes to brag to kids at other high schools that he gets to train alongside the legend, Nick Stanko.

In January, Stanko traveled to Texas to compete in the Olympic trials for the marathon and Beyea and some of other kids went down to support their coach.

At the trials, 111 men were running for three spots. So Stanko’s mindset was to go for it, even though had been dealing with some injuries. At first Stanko felt great, but around the half-way mark his body began to cramp and he stopped drinking any liquids.

His wife Theresa and the students noticed something looked, well, wrong. Theresa said she noticed a change in her husband’s stride, plus there was that look on his face—a look she says she had never seen before.

Ryan Beyea says when a runner feels good, their form looks good. But when a runner starts to die, Beyea says they look less relaxed—and that’s what the students noticed with Stanko. Beyea says Stanko’s arms came closer to his chest and his legs and knees were not rising very high.

Theresa Stanko remembers thinking, “I can’t imagine him stopping.” But that’s what happened, at mile 24 of the 26 mile race.

Stanko simply hit the wall. “I mean I thought to myself, ‘I can do this, I’m tough!’” he said, “but I got humbled.”

On the home stretch, Stanko slowly pulled off to the side near a medical tent, saw a cooler full of Gatorades, grabbed a bottle, and drank it down. He walked the remaining two miles to the finish line.

High school senior and track member Ellen Corder says it was sad to see her coach, who she thought was super-human, not finish the race.

"It was almost the pain of yourself not finishing a race, multiplied by ten watching him not finish.” But she says she admires him even more for his positive attitude throughout the race and for his ability to look to the future and move on.

Stanko was in good company that day. He was one of twenty-six marathon runners who did not finish the trials. But Stanko says he’s got a plan that includes running the marathon trials for the next two Olympics.