NORWALK, Conn. – A knee injury sustained during a soccer game helped launch Norwalk’s Eric van der Els into running. After two victories in the Junior Olympic Track and Field Region 1 meet earlier this month, the rising sophomore at Brien McMahon High School figures he has kicked his soccer habit for good.
Van der Els won the 1,500 and 3,000 meters in the 15-16 age division at the meet at New York’s Icahn Stadium. The victories qualify him for the national championship meet, which begins July 22 in Greensboro, N.C.
He won the 1,500 in 4:15.83, and the 3,000 in 9:16.91. Both times were personal bests, with the latter representing a dramatic improvement of 15 seconds.
“I had good competition,’’ said van de Els, who also won the state championship in both events. “They really pushed me. I had a good kick at the end and was able to pass some runners.”
Both races played out in similar fashion. He ran with the lead pack and was in third place with 500 meters to go. He pulled ahead in the final 100 meters. In the 3,000, he cruised past the contenders in a strong move with about 400 meters to go.
“That’s the one I really wanted to win,’’ van der Els said. “I feel like that’s my best race. I’m going to have to work on my kick for nationals.”
Van der Els played baseball and soccer before discovering running. He injured his knee last year in soccer and decided not to play for the high school team last fall.
“I was kind of bored, and my mother mentioned to me that my sister, Sarah, was doing cross country," he said. "I joined just to keep in shape for baseball, and I found out I was pretty good at it.”
Van der Els played baseball for McMahon in the spring, but as soon as the season ended in late May he started preparing for the Junior Olympic meet.
“I was running a little bit after baseball practice,’’ van der Els said. “Coach (Jeff) Brentson told me he wanted me to do Junior Olympics. I knew of it, but I didn’t think it was going to be like this.”
Now van der Els is looking forward to chasing a national championship in the 3,000 meters at the national meet. He’s also excited about the coming cross country season and is considering his options for next spring.
“I’ve been playing baseball forever, and I really like it,’’ he said. “I loved playing for McMahon. But I’m not sure about baseball next spring. That’s a decision I’ll have to make.”
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