Physics class was the perfect setting for St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark, N.J.) senior Edward Cheserek to receive the greatest honor in high school distance running.
Phenomena like thrust and velocity are central to Cheserek’s athletic success. But shock is the best scientific term to describe his reaction when American distance-running star Dathan Ritzenhein strode into Cheserek’s classroom Wednesday morning to surprise him with the 2012-13 Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year trophy.
“I’m very excited to receive this honor,” Cheserek said. “It’s tough to put into words. This is something so special to me. I’m very surprised.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program recognizes outstanding athletic excellence as well as high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the course. A native of Kenya, Cheserek is now a finalist for the Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year award.
MORE: Gatorade POY Homepage
This past fall, the 5-foot-8, 125-pound Cheserek won his second consecutive title at the Foot Locker National Championships, joining Ritzenhein as the only other runner to twice win the 5K race in less than 15 minutes. Cheserek became only the fourth repeat champion in the Foot Locker National Championships’ 34-year history.
“Edward Cheserek left no doubt who was the best boys’ harrier this fall,” said Steve Underwood, DyeStat editor for Runnerspace.com. “Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen some of the greatest harriers in prep history — Dathan Ritzenhein, Lukas Verzbicas and others — and Cheserek deserves to be mentioned with all of them.”
Cheserek won the last 13 high school cross country races of his career dating back to his sophomore season, establishing course records in nine of those victories.
MORE: View the State Winners
As a junior, Cheserek became the first high schooler to run a sub-12:00 at New York’s 2.5-mile Van Cortlandt Park course. His time of 11:55.4 was 27 seconds faster than Alberto Salazar ran as a high schooler, 28 seconds faster than Marty Liquori and 23 seconds faster than 2001 Gatorade National Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year Alan Webb. All three runners went on to make the Olympics.
Cheserek is also a two-time NJISAA Prep A state champion and holds the U.S. prep national indoor record at 5,000 meters.
“This is so cool - Edward is a tremendous kid and so deserving,” said Ritzenhein, who twice earned Gatorade Michigan Boys Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors (2000 and 2001). “When you consider his two national championships with the second one so much more pressure-packed with the bull's-eye on your back, then there’s his course record at Van Cortlandt Park, where so many American greats have run. He’s a special athlete.”
Cheserek, 18, has maintained a B average. He has volunteered on behalf of the St. Mary’s Parish food pantry in Newark.
Cheserek remains undecided upon a collegiate destination.
He became the ninth athlete from New Jersey to earn national Gatorade honors in the award’s 27-year history. The last Jersey winner came in 2007 when Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) right-handed pitcher Rick Porcello was named Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year. Porcello now pitches for the Detroit Tigers.
California has produced the most national Gatorade winners with 58, followed by Texas (27) and Florida (19).