NRHEG junior T.J. Schiltz sets sights high for cross country, track
SIGHTS SET — NRHEG High School junior and school-record holder T.J. Schiltz looks for big things during the upcoming cross country season. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)
By RACHEL RIETSEMA
NRHEG High School’s track and cross country teams have a star runner amongst them. And, his career continues to climb the record charts even when injury presents hardship.
“My first year of varsity track, I ran three miles in about 23 minutes,” said junior T.J. Schiltz. “Three years later, I finished the state meet with a 16:48.”
Evidently, Schiltz has made excellent strides since his 8th-grade season. His determination and hate-to-lose attitude have everything to do with the improvement.
“I don’t want all my hard work wasted,” he said. “I just keep chugging along so that I can put myself well ahead of the competition.”
Summer months are a great time to condition his muscles too. On average, he runs five miles a day, even with an injury he obtained from the April Sorenson Half Marathon about a month ago.
“I’m still able to put in miles and it doesn’t hurt, but I can’t do more advanced core workouts right now,” he said. “The healing process isn’t moving at the process I want it to, so I have to bring in the heavy ice baths and the stretching to counteract what’s going on.”
Both hip flexors now on the mend, he believes that once they heal, it will in turn make him a faster runner.
“You can’t give up on yourself,” he said. “There’s always a point in your career where you wonder, ‘Why am I doing this, if it hurts so much?’ If you just stick it out, you will start to reap the benefits sooner than you may think.”
This summer, things have been really hectic for him, but he still makes it a priority to average five miles a day.
“If I’m having an unmotivated day, my parents get on my case,” he said. “Everyone in town has been on my side too, and I’m really thankful for that. At meets, even if I didn’t do that great, it feels good when my friends always give me words of encouragement.”
Far past his “lazy bum” days, he has some pretty lofty goals. But with his competitive spirit, there are no limits for how fast his legs can go.
“For cross country, I want to take my 5K time to a 15 or 16-minute, in order to place top 10 in the state meet this year,” he said. “For track, maybe drop my two-mile down to 9:30 and place in the top four.”
In the long term, he has his sights set on qualifying for a scholarship to a Division II college like MSU Mankato or a Division I college like UCLA or the University of Minnesota.
“Hopefully, in the major long run, I can make it to the Olympic Games,” he said. “Eighth grade was really when I decided to get my priorities straight and really work hard on my own during the summer to come back and be the best I could be.”
His mother, Tricia Schiltz, further noted, “We as his parents just love him so much and encourage T.J. to do the best job he can do on and off the track, or cross country course, and to also be humble, and proud of all the other people around him that have helped him along the way.”
All his hard work became pretty evident this last July 4, when he ran the Freedom Day 5K in St. Peter. Or, as he puts it, his wheels turned mighty quickly after making a fatal error.
“I started out about 400 meters ahead of second place, but the first turn didn’t have clear markings,” he said. “So I accidentally turned off about half a mile up the wrong road.”
After sprinting half a mile back, he realized the magnitude of his error. He had dropped from first place to 10th.
“If I wouldn’t have gotten lost, I could have finished with a sub-17,” he said. “It was discouraging because first place finished with an 18:40, but I’m still happy to know that I was still able to catch six people.”
Clearly, this speed demon has a knack for dropping major time off previous runs. In seventh grade, he started out with a 15-minute mile and finished with a 5:36.
“Starting 8th and 9th-grade season, I thought of cross country as a relaxing thing and looked at all the cool things along the courses,” he said. “But going into this last year, I went into competition mode. I was just in the zone.”
Both his parents are amazed at the fantastic runner he has become. For Tricia, the excitement exponentially mounts as soon as he darts off the starting line.
“I think I might get more excited about it than he does, if that is possible,” Tricia said. “I have taped every meet also. We watch them over and over again to see what he can do to get better and faster.”
While replaying some of those moments, he is brought back to the agony of it all. The pain endured is worth it in the end though, and well, the cramping will wear off eventually, he says.
“It’s as much as a mental game as it is a physical one,” he said.
His efforts to reach superior status are starting to move over into the classroom and even at his two places of employment.
“I tend to take my weekends light or completely off,” he said. “I call them zero days. And, when I’m not running or out with my friends, I typically sit at home watch TV, go on Facebook and be a bum.”
Aside from running, he also has a forte in the long jump, high jump and hurdle races.
“I see the coach as the king during practice and meets,” he said. “I do what they say.”
Honoring those authorities plays a big part in his success on the courses and track.
“I have gone as an individual to Junior Olympic track in Norfolk, Virginia,” he said. “My summer Junior Olympic cross country team out of Lakeville traveled down to Alabama one year and placed fifth overall.”
In order to achieve such feats, he must stay in shape all year round. So, for that specific reason, he has joined the basketball team.
“Basketball keeps my fast-twitch muscles in check, which are used for sprinters and distance runners for speed,” he said. “Every last bit of strength counts, because one time, I won a race by .1 of a second. It was insane.”
More focused than he has ever been, he is ready to face the ups and downs, no matter how extreme they may be.
“I ran track when I went to high school, but let me tell you, he didn't get it from me,” Tricia said. “I was never as good as he is. He trains in his running like a job. He really takes it serious every time he runs.”