Last week was extremely bittersweet for national record-setter Lukas Verzbicas.
It started with emotional turmoil on Wednesday when the
Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.)
senior found out that one of his best friends, Kevin McDowell, had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma cancer.
"He's the best triathlete in the nation," Verzbicas said of McDowell, who is a senior at Geneva (Ill.)
. "He was third in the World Junior Championships. We've been friends since (age) 10. He's the nicest person in the world. It was a huge shock. I couldn't train and I couldn't sleep (the rest of the week)."
Still, just two days later the 18-year-old phenom shaved 12 seconds off his own national record when he won the 5,000-meter run in 14 minutes, 6.78 seconds during the prestigious New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory in New York City.
Despite riding an emotional roller coaster, Verzbicas said, "There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a record. It was only a matter of how much (time) I could take off. I lapped the whole field and had hoped to get under 14 minutes."
Saturday was a day of rest, but he confided that he got only about three hours of sleep as he prepared for a grueling double on Sunday.
"I felt terrible, but I really pulled myself together," he said.
Still hoping to break the coveted 47-year-old national two-mile record (8:40 by Gerry Lindgren), the teenage superstar captured gold in 8:40.7 – oh so close! St. Benedict's Prep (Newark, N.J.)
sophomore Edward Cheserek chased him to the wire in 8:42.66, No. 3 in prep history and a sophomore class record.
An hour and a half later, Verzbicas returned for the mile. Among the entries were three future teammates at the University of Oregon – Chad Noelle, Matt Jablonski and Elias Gedyon.
Gedyon, a senior at Loyola (Los Angeles)
, had the honor of pushing Verzbicas to first place in a superb time 4:10.67. Gedyon was the runnerup in 4:11.76.
With three gold medals, Verzbicas scored 30 points, more than enough to earn the national team championship trophy as well. His unprecedented day in, perhaps, the biggest indoor meet of the year had indeed earned him the right to be called a one-man team.
"That was very special. How many people can say that?" he laughed.
Again thinking of his friend's illness, he stressed, "I didn't do this just for myself. I'm very, very grateful to come out on top."
Because Verzbicas will be skipping a year so he can graduate this spring, the obvious question is how good could he have been next year had he chosen to stay in high school?
He replied, "Personally, I wanted it (this year) to be more special. I wouldn't have tried so hard if I had another year."