The Shoe Fits for New Britain Cross Country Star
New Britain High cross country runner Aneta Strumilowska was competing in a meet against Northwest Catholic and Farmington October 4 when potential disaster struck two miles into the race.
The junior looked over at Coach John Richard, anxiously told him that her shoe was falling off and that she didn’t know what to do. But her instinct kicked in, and for Strumilowska, instinct is driven by her will to compete and her will to win.
Trailing at the time, she won the race. But of greater significance is what the incident told Richard about his burgeoning star.
“The Farmington girl was ahead by four or five seconds, but (Aneta) kept going,” Richard said. “She wanted to compete. She wanted to win. She battled that kid the last half mile with the lead going back and forth. She was running over rocks but she still competed and won by five seconds.
“The girl’s as tough as nails. She’s got heart. That’s how we want to be represented. That’s what we want to become. We want to instill that in every kid. If you want to be successful, you have to do those things.”
Aneta’s shoe caper took place on a rain-soaked course at Northwest Catholic. She learned something about competing and something about herself.
“It started falling off and I wasn’t sure what to do,” said Strumilowska, who came to New Britain with her family from Poland seven years ago. “I kicked it off and just kept running. There was a mile left in the race but when you‘re racing, you don’t really feel the pain. I focused on getting in front and finishing.”
She also slipped 400 meters before the finish line and sustained some cuts. Yet she not only finished, and won, but recorded a 20:22, her best time of the year.
Strumilowska, fourth in her class academically as a sophomore, was a soccer player as a freshman but opted for cross country last year. She finished 21st in Class L with a time of 20:31 at the Wickham Park course and earned All-CCC honors. Richard was struck by her potential.
“She’s intrinsically motivated,” said Richard, now in his 16th season guiding the NBHS cross country teams. “She has that drive and wants to do well. She’s focused on the task at hand and her goals. There are other kids that do possess that, but it’s been a while for us.”
The New Britain girls team is only two strong so winning dual meets isn’t possible. The absence of any team goals has not diverted Strumilowska whatsoever. She trains with the boys’ team.
“It’s refreshing and contagious,” Richard said. “The other kids see her success and work she put in. In a sport like cross country, you have to put the time in. You have to put in the road work and be diligent about it all year long. Talent will only get you so far.
“Her best days are ahead of her. I don’t want her best days to be in high school. We’re definitely concerned with her getting into a good school. She’s starting to think about those things now. She’s definitely setting herself up.”
Working hard is elementary to Strumilowska, who won three of New Britain’s four dual meets. Working hard on running and academics has refined her ability to manage time.
“If you work hard at practice, you learn to work hard in the classroom, and the other way around,” she said. “You have to have good time management. The coaches are good about not making us stay. Practices are one and a half or two hours and that leaves me time to do my schoolwork. It’s hard, but you get used to it.”
Richard says that Strumilowska ranks as one of the two best girls he’s coached. Justice Bowser, who graduated in 2005, finished sixth in Class LL and 38th in the State Open as a senior.
“As far as we’re concerned, she’s at the top of the list as far as someone possessing the talent, the athletic ability and academics,” he said.
The dual meets are over. She looked ahead to the CCCs, the Class LLs, the Open and possibly beyond.
“It’s the most important part of the season,” said Strumilowska, who paid tribute to New Britain’s volunteer coach and former Central Connecticut State University mentor George Kawecki for his contributions. “I want to get to the New England’s this year. The competition is hard but I’m going to do my best.”