The Day's All-Area Boys' Indoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year: East Lyme's Sam Whittaker
Sam Whittaker takes life's challenges in stride.
School work piles up. His part-time job as a fry cook at Dave's Place in Montville eats up precious time. And then there are the demands of competing for the East Lyme High School boys' indoor track and field team.
Whittaker shakes off the stress just as he does his competitors in the distance events.
"A lot of people get so stressed out about school and stuff," Whittaker said, "but I just don't let it bother me. There's only so much I can do. If I spend all this time worrying about stuff ..."
Evidence indicates Whittaker's worry-free approach works.
Whittaker's accomplishments earned him The Day's 2019 All-Area Indoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year honor.
Coach Steve Hargis saw Whittaker consistently lower his times and raise his confidence level.
"Before this year he thought he could do it and some meets he would turn it on and some he wouldn't," Hargis said. "He wasn't quite sure he could produce quality runs every single time. He's made a real mental commitment to go in every race with a level of confidence that he could do well and be highly competitive and see how it turns out."
It turned out pretty darn well.
Whittaker won three individual events in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I championship meet, taking first in the 1,000 meters, 1,600 and 3,200. The Vikings captured the team title.
That was just his warm-up act.
At the Class L state championship, Whittaker finished first in the 1,600 in a personal best 4 minutes, 23 seconds and ran a leg on the winning 4x800 relay team while also placing fourth in the 3,200 to help pace the Vikings to third place overall.
In the State Open, he lowered his time again in the 1,600, taking third in a school-record 4:21.63.
"Very rarely do you have an athlete that starting in the ECC (championship), every time he runs the 1,600, he got faster all the way through," Hargis said. "He knew he could do it and he could stretch the boundaries."
The pressure of expectations never bothered Whittaker because he had faith in his ability.
"This year was probably a lot of different just because of the confidence that I had," Whittaker said. "I wouldn't worry about stuff, because I knew if I ran the race that I knew I could, I'd be fine. No matter how big the stage got, I always knew how fast I could run. It didn't matter if I was at a dual meet or at nationals."
Even when competing on the biggest stage of his running career at the New Balance Nationals last month at The Armory in New York City, Whittaker managed to remain calm. In the emerging elite mile, he ran his best race in his first national appearance, improving his program record with a time of 4:18 while placing fifth.
"Nationals was my last race so I decided to just go for it," Whittaker said. "I finished, crossed the line, dropped to the ground and I was staring at the board and it said 4:18 and my face just lit up."
Whittaker also is excelling in the classroom after deciding to take a serious approach to his school work entering his junior year. Up until then, he admitted he cared more about other things than school.
"I realized the summer going into my junior year I really have to turn my grades around if I want to go to college somewhere, so I actually started doing my homework and studying in school," Whittaker said. "My GPA ended up just for the junior year alone a 4.0."
He'll attend Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, this fall and continue his running career. He's considering studying biological sciences with a post-graduate goal of working in physical therapy.
First, he's determined to finish his career strong on the track and in the classroom. He also wants to set a good example for his younger teammates.
Hargis, also the coach of the boys' outdoor track team, is just happy to have Whittaker around for one more season. Whittaker really embraced the leadership role during indoor season.
"He was a positive influence on his team," Hargis said. "He's happy to be a part of the team. I'm just happy to see how far he's gone in the last year and a half. He's really kind of figured it out."
The Day's 2019 All-Area Boys' Indoor Track & Field Team
Player of the Year — Sam Whittaker (East Lyme)
55 meters — James Smith (Ledyard)
300 — Tyler Cady (Fitch)
600 — Marquis Whyte (New London)
1,000 — Rhys Hammond (Stonington)
55 hurdles — David Osagie (NFA)
4x200 relay — Ledyard (James Smith, Travon Brown, Jahmik Devone, Robbie Petriel)
4x400 relay — Stonington (Chase Flynn, Graham Johnstone, Joey Hinckley, Rhys Hammond)
4x800 relay — East Lyme (Sam Whittaker, Matt Kung, Rob Avena, Fred Rukundo)
Sprint medley relay — Stonington (Ben Abely, Martin Vernet, Joey Hinckley, Rhys Hammond)
High jump, long jump — Jaheem Spruill (NFA)
Pole vault — Jacob Bazinet (NFA)
Shot put — Cam Belton (NFA)
Utility — Chris Abbey (East Lyme)