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Talking up a Blue Streak

Nick Guarino

Distance runner Nick Guarino earned two NCAA national championships – as a junior. As he enters his senior year, he’s set his sights on some even bigger goals…including sharing the podium with his twin brother.

Nick Guarino has always been the fastest kid in school. He and his identical twin brother, Josh, that is. And whatever sport one of them played, the other did too. It was like that when they played football. Soccer, too. They were always together – which made things a little easier on their parents, Vincent and Nancy, who also had to make sure younger sister Kristen got to all of her activities.

No matter what they played, they always brought the same trademark skill: speed. So when they had a chance to try their hands at track and field in ninth grade, the Guarino boys discovered they clearly had, well, a leg up.

Their bond continued throughout their years at Byron-Bergen (N.Y.) High School where they helped the cross country team make the state championships during their junior and senior years, finishing fourth and fifth in Class C, respectively.

When it came time to go to college, there was still no splitting them up. They knew they wanted a school that offered both solid academics and a competitive track and field program, and Fredonia had both. Plus, it was the perfect distance from their Rochester suburb: not far away, but just far enough.

“We really liked what the coaches had to say about Fredonia and the [track and field] program, and the campus really felt right too,” Nick recalls.

When they enrolled in the fall of 2007, however, they knew right away they had reached a new level.

“We didn’t have any idea what ‘real’ training was until college,” Josh admits.

Twins Nick and Josh
Josh (left) and Nick got their first taste of track and field in the fourth grade “Olympics.” They finished first and second in the 100-meter dash... although they can’t remember who finished first. Josh’s specialty is the steeplechase, and the personal-record 9:19.90 he ran at the Penn Relays in April would have placed him fourth on Fredonia’s all-time list. He hopes to get below 9:00 this year, which would be a school record.

Josh GuarinoAfter finishing a summer internship with the Rochester Rhinos, Josh continued training this summer with his brother at the fields of their alma mater, Byron-Bergen High School.

 

Things were pretty tough at the start for Nick especially, as his performances – and his grades – as a freshman weren’t what he had envisioned. However, as he gained a better feel for the team, the training regimen, and the athletics-classroom balance, he started regaining his confidence. He began turning in better times at the end of the season, and set a personal record in the 800 meters.

That’s when Assistant Coach Jeff Beck, who specialized in distance runners, saw that the Guarinos might just have what it takes to be something special.

“You can just tell by watching [athletes],” says Coach Beck. “How they work out, prepare mentally, compete. A lot comes down to the personality of the athlete, but with their speed, you knew they had the potential.”

Beck quickly won them over.

“He said, ‘give me a chance, and we’ll get you there.’” Nick recalls. “So we did.”

They immediately began a series of training exercises designed to add strength and endurance to their natural speed. The results began to show toward the end of their sophomore year, as both performed very well at the 2009 SUNYAC Outdoor Championships, with Nick finishing second in both the 800 and 1,500 meter races, and Josh finishing fourth in the steeplechase.

However, things really changed in their junior year – and in ways neither had imagined. Through an unfortunate disciplinary situation, Josh was not able to run with the track and field team in an official capacity. That meant that Nick – essentially for the first time in his life – was on his own. “It was very difficult for me to not be able to fully share it all with him,” said Nick. “He still ran with me in terms of training and was able to push me better than almost anybody else. But he wasn’t able to run at the meets.”

It was even more difficult for Josh.

“It was hard for me to watch, because I wanted to be doing the same thing, and I pretty much was. It’s not like I wasn’t training. I was doing almost every run with [Nick,] and that definitely helped him out. But knowing that I have the same abilities, I wanted to be [competing] too.”

As the indoor season drew to a close, many throughout the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) knew Nick was a legitimate contender. He didn’t disappoint. He shattered the meet record at the SUNYAC Indoor Track & Field Championships in Geneva, N.Y., by roughly 4.5 seconds. He also won the 800 meters, setting a meet record in that event as well, and was honored with the conference’s Most Outstanding Male Track Athlete award.

From there it was off to Greencastle, Ind., to run the mile at the NCAA Division III (D-III) Indoor National Championships. He entered the finals as the fastest D-III “miler,” having run a personal best 4:09.10 at Boston University on Feb. 13. He finished as the fastest too, with a time of 4:09.99, earning the national title 1.32 seconds ahead of his closest competitor.

“I wanted to go out and hang with the leaders and conserve energy,” Nick said. “I had confidence I could out-kick them in the end. I knew my body could hang with any pace anyone dished out.”

Beck knew it as well. “I knew back in Boston that he had what it took,” said Beck. “Had he been in a more competitive heat that day [in Boston], he could have run a 4:05. So going into Nationals, he was confident. I knew half-way through that he was going to win it.”

By winning, Nick became the sixth male Blue Devil to capture an NCAA individual track and field championship, and the first since 1994.

Still, as happy as he wanted to be for Nick, it was hard for Josh to fully enjoy his brother’s success, knowing that he could have been there too. “It was tough for me to watch him do so well, so much so that, at first, I couldn’t even get that excited about his indoor title,” Josh admits. “But I finally realized that this was my doing, and I needed to deal with it and not let it be an issue for [Nick.] I’ve definitely become a better person because of it, and it’s made me even more dedicated to running. It’s really motivated me for the coming year.”

Nick also felt his brother’s pain, and it wasn’t easy for him to watch Josh on the sidelines. “It was hard not having him there,” says Nick. “And it was tough on him too, not having the team to push him or allow him to compete at that high level.”

A big step for Josh in coming to grips with his situation came in April at the Penn Relays, a non-NCAA international event that drew the likes of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, who won gold and shattered the world record in the process during the 2008 Summer Olympics. Inspired by the higher competition – not to mention the 54,000 people in the stands – Nick turned in his fastest mile time ever, finishing in 4:07.95, good for eighth place in a field of mostly professional runners.

“To be at the same meet – on the same track – as someone like that [Bolt]…it just made me realize how far I’ve gone since coming to campus,” Nick recalls.

It was memorable for Josh too, because he was able to run as well, marking the first time they had competed together in almost a year. Josh made sure not to squander the opportunity, producing a personal record of 9:19.90 in the 3,000 meter steeplechase, which would have provisionally qualified him for the NCAA outdoor nationals and put him fourth on the Blue Devils’ all-time list.

But Josh is aiming a little higher when he rejoins the team this year. “My goal is to get below 9:00 this year,” he says. “That would be a school record.”

With some closure gained regarding Josh’s circumstances, Nick’s next major stop was the NCAA D-III Outdoor Championships at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. Now widely considered the favorite in the 1,500 meters (the outdoor season’s version of the mile), Nick handled the pressure with great maturity and held on in a nail-biter to win a second national title by less than three-tenths of a second. And when Nick crossed that finished line, how was Josh feeling this time around? “I think I was cheering louder than anyone else in the stadium,” Josh says. “I was really proud of him.”

The year ended very positively for the brothers, who have excelled in the classroom too. Nick, who is pursuing a double major in Computer Science and History, has a 3.40 cumulative grade point average (GPA), including dean’s list appearances in three of his last four semesters. Josh, meanwhile, has earned dean’s list recognition in every semester but one thus far, with a cumulative GPA of 3.52 for the Sport Management major with a minor in Computer Information Systems.

They also made excellent use of their summers. Nick landed a competitive internship at the world-famous Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., while Josh is interning with the Rochester Rhinos, a professional soccer team in Rochester, N.Y. Ironically, this meant that the two had to spend their entire summers apart – the longest they have been separated in their lives.

When they return in August to start training for their senior cross country season, both Nick and Josh have a lot to look forward to. In the fall, Nick hopes to become an All American in Cross Country. Of course, he wants to repeat as a national champion in both the indoor and outdoor championships, but he’s also committed to breaking the four-minute mile threshold. That would put him at the equivalent of most Division I NCAA athletes – and put him in a realistic discussion of qualifying for the U.S. championships in 2011, as well as the Olympics in 2012.

“He has a legitimate shot,” Beck insists. “It will require an incredible amount of dedication, but it’s do-able.”

Josh is more conservative in his goal setting, since he realizes he has some catching up to do. He also wants to qualify for the NCAA indoor and outdoor national championships for the mile and 1,500 meter events, respectively. He’s hoping to generate a time of 4:05 in the mile and 3:47 in the 1,500. He’d also like to become an All American in cross country, as well as indoor and outdoor track and field.

But most of all, he’s just happy he’s getting the chance to rejoin the team, so he can get back to doing what he enjoys the most – running with his brother.

“He’s such a similar talent. He really pushes me,” says Nick. “I tell him, ‘Don’t sell yourself short.’ He’s as good as me. He can do it, too.”

When asked about the prospects of having two Guarinos on the medal stand next year, Josh smiles widely. “That would be awesome,” he acknowledges.

And what if Nick for some reason doesn’t repeat as a national champ? “The only way I wouldn’t be disappointed is if my brother won,” he says. “We’ve been through so much on our road together.”

And as either will attest, they both have many more miles to go.
 

posted @ Friday, August 27, 2010 2:53 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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