For many athletes, interest in their sports began when they were young, and upcoming senior Grant Nykaza is no exception. Cross country is for him a family affair.
"I kind of followed in their footsteps," he said. "My dad began running when he was in high school, and then I have two older brothers and they also ran.
"Ever since I was younger, I always wanted to run."
In addition to success at States and competing in the Foot Locker Nationals, Nykaza has some more personal memories related to the sport: warming up with the team when he was only in fourth grade and his older brother was a runner; and his dad acting as his trainer, pushing him toward higher goals.
Some elementary-age kids would be intimidated to warm up with the big high school athletes, but Nykaza didn't experience that problem.
"My brother -- he kind of just made it comfortable for me," he said. "Everyone was nice to me."
Thus, Nykaza got an early start with his team training. Aside from being blessed with an unusually nice older brother, Nykaza also has the benefit of having a dad who is Beecher High School's assistant coach for the sport. While some high school students might have reservations about spending so much time with one of their parents, Nykaza had only positive things to say about his father's coaching.
"If I had a bad workout, he wouldn't bring it home. He realizes that your legs are tired at some point," he said. "When I had bad races, he just kind of brought me up and he just helped me get through the weak points."
Of course, having a coach-dad isn't necessarily easy.
"He knows my capability, so you know I could run the fastest time in the state, but he'd say, 'Nice job. All right, now you've got to work on this, you've got to work on that,'" Nykaza said. "He gets the best out of me."
Apparently, his father's tactics have worked. Nykaza has twice gotten second place in the three-mile at the State Championships and competed in the 2011 Foot Locker Nationals. His success has had an unexpected effect -- it has brought attention to the 1A class that his school belongs to. While classes 2 and 3A had 15 runners break 15 minutes in the three-mile last year, Nykaza was the only one in 1A to do so.
"The 3A guys are known for having so much better, faster times," he said.
"I actually just got told the other day by a 3A -- I think a dad -- that he's never really paid attention to 1A until I came along. It's just nice to know that people are actually following it now."
There will be a lot more to follow if Nykaza achieves all he hopes to next year. Though he doesn't yet have a State title he knows that this will be his last chance, and he's feeling confident about the possibilities of his senior year. In addition to his hopes for a win at States, he also wants to compete in Nationals again and get his time for the three-mile as close to 14:00 as possible.
"I always hear after every year, 'Oh, you have next year, you have next year'...I can't hear that anymore," he said. "I have to follow through on it."
What does a nationally competitive high school athlete do when he's not training, competing or getting recruiting calls from college coaches? What a lot of other kids his age like to do: sleep.
"I'm really lazy," he laughed. "I will sleep all day; I will wake up at you know 11:00, and two hours later I'll be back in bed asleep. I don't know what it is, but I love sleeping. But then I'll finally get up and say, 'Ok, I've got to run.'"
He sounds like your average high school kid, but get him in a pair of running shoes and he's bound to impress. With his years of experience and his dad's tough-love-style training, Nykaza's senior year has the potential to be his very best.
Fun Fact: Grant loves Kool-Aid. See what he had to say about it during the interview:
Grant: I drink Kool-Aid a lot. I know it's really bad for you, but I just recently had Kool-Aid like 20 minutes ago. I just really...that's like my favorite drink. But I try staying off of it during the season cause it's full of sugar -- but I drink it a lot and I wish I could stop but it's really good.
Amy: You're going to have to go to Kool-Aid Anonymous and deal with this addiction! So if the Kool-Aid company came to you and wanted to sponsor you, what would you say?
Grant: Heck yeah! I'd drink Kool-Aid all day.