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Familiar Cheers Fuel Passion Within Calvin Distance Standout Nick Kramer

Friday, December 23, 2011

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By Sports Information Student Assistant Andrew Knot

Coming around the fourth turn at Grand Valley State University’s Early Bird Open, he heard them, the cheers of his teammates.

Calvin! Calvin! Calvin!

These cheers weren’t new to Nick Kramer; he was actually quite familiar with them.  For the past three years he’d heard them at conference jamborees and regional meets.  He even heard them at last year’s nationals, where just enough Advil and an uncanny amount of focus allowed him to momentarily ignore the pangs of a torn hamstring to finish fourth in the 5000 meters at the 2011 NCAA III Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
But these sounded a bit different.  They met his ears with the same cadence, the same passion.  Still, they weren’t the same.  Were they louder?  Probably not, though the chants of the two-dozen teammates who came out to support Kramer and teammate Alex Wrobel certainly amplified as the race progressed. 

In fact, these cheers weren’t entirely accurate.  Though Kramer and Wrobel proudly don the Maroon and Gold, they couldn’t today.  The meet wasn’t listed on Calvin’s schedule, which meant Wrobel and Kramer had to run unattached in a talent-loaded field.  But that wasn’t the difference; no, these cheers rang with heightened significance.  That’s because these chants, along with their rhythmic exuberance, carried with them the silence of four months on the sideline.

After the 2011 NCAA III Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Kramer had a decision to make.  The strained hamstring was wearing on his hip flexor.  Though he felt fine during practices and competitions, afterwards his stride gave way to a limp.  Choosing to run in that year’s cross country campaign might jeopardize not just that season, but the 2012 track and field season, as well as Kramer’s running future.  With help from Coach Brian Diemer, Kramer elected to sit the year out.
“[Sitting out] was a lot harder than I thought,” said Kramer, whose workout regimen included daily stints on an exercise bike and regular sessions in the pool.  “The hardest part was watching.”

Kramer’s teammates, like senior Luke DeJong, did some watching of their own.  DeJong’s own Calvin running experience has been riddled with injuries, so Kramer could relate to him throughout the rehab process.  In Kramer, DeJong witnessed a teammate intent on a return.

“I saw a guy who was very determined to come back at an even higher level than he left,” said DeJong, who also noted Kramer’s unfailing reliance on his faith in the process.

For four months, Kramer continued his routine while driving himself to meets and cheering on teammates, though he couldn’t resist scanning the finish times and mentally inserting his own.  Frozen in the back of his mind was the idea of racing again.  Diemer, well-aware of Kramer’s crave to compete, set a parameter to guide Kramer’s rehabilitation:  no racing until Thanksgiving.

Kramer set his eyes on two events:  the Foot Locker Midwest Championships and Grand Valley’s Early Bird Open.  He upped his training to include hills and tempo runs while he gradually increased his miles.  He was on his way back.  That’s not to say there wasn’t adversity.  DeJong recalls a few frustrated conversations in which Kramer wondered aloud, “Why am I even doing this?”
His Coach knew the answer.  His guess is Kramer probably did too. 

“Nick’s a pusher and a driver,” said Diemer.  “He needs something to point towards to keep his focus.” 

The Midwest Championships held his focus.  On November 26, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kramer ran the 5000 Meters in 15:00, good for first place on what Kramer called “the toughest cross country course I’ve ever run.” 

Clearly, he was back.  But to what degree?  The week after the Foot Locker Championships came Grand Valley’s Early Bird Open.  It was a chance to answer that question a little closer to home.  Kramer had heard about the race from some Grand Valley runners looking to qualify for nationals.  The field was stacked with talent, including some of the top local Division II runners and a professional. 

Even after the previous week’s first place finish, Kramer entered the race unsure of where he’d place. 

“Going into it, I’ve never had that big of a question mark as to how fast I’d be able to run,” he said.

Before the race, Kramer, DeJong, and Wrobel huddled to discuss the significance of the race.  Close to 25 of their Calvin teammates were present because, as DeJong said, “Every time Nick steps on the track a record’s in danger.”  This race represented the last competition those teammates would see before winter training.

“This race has to be the inspiration,” they said.

Kramer had his focus, but even once the gun sounded, he was unsure of his time.  He hadn’t heard any splits, so he continued pace.  When, after two miles, he was running comfortably at the speed of Grand Valley’s top runners, he felt encouraged.

“At that point I thought, if I’m going to be back, I might as well give it all I’ve got,” he said.

If they hadn’t already, his teammates took notice. 

“We would look down on our watches and say ‘He could do this.  He’s below pace,’” said DeJong.  Earlier in the week, some of Kramer’s teammates had teased the possibility of Kramer setting a personal record.  The idea was quickly dismissed, not after such an extended absence. 

But his pace continued.  With each lap, his teammates’ excitement built.  So did the strain in Kramer’s face.  As he neared the race’s end, they saw it in his eyes. 

“He was running with conviction,” said DeJong, who, when thinking about the race’s final 1200 meters, added, “passion would be a great descriptor.”

Kramer admits that he doesn’t always hear the chants.  That’s just a product of his tunnel vision focus.  With the finish line on his mind, everything else gets lost.

“I’m bad at multi-tasking,” he says.

But coming around the final turn at Grand Valley, he heard them.

Calvin! Calvin! Calvin! 

They were laced with exuberance and disbelief and interrupted by shouts of his name.  Kramer had finished two seconds off the leader—the sponsored professional— with a time a half second shy of the previous track record:  14:07.98.  It was ten seconds shy of Kramer’s individual best, indoor or outdoor, which still stands as the Calvin record.  Had he been running with the school, he would have shattered his own record. 

“After the race I looked down at my watch and thought, ‘Wow, that was incredible,’” said DeJong, who shared that reaction with the other teammates on hand.

Coach Diemer, on the other hand, wasn’t surprised when he was informed of the race.

“Nick has an insatiable need to compete and to win.  When you take a bit of that away from he, he becomes very hard to stop,” he said.

But beyond the phenomenal time, Kramer’s performance was an affirmation of four months of recovery and years of passionate dedication to the sport.  At times, the moment seemed a far cry away. Now, it was the sound of a return ringing in his ears. 

“It’s always great to hear the Calvin chant,” he said.

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