Choosing between following in one’s family’s footsteps or paving your own path is a tough decision some people may face at critical points in their lives. First-year cross country runner Thomas Smigo chose a little bit of both.
Now a Mountain Hawk, Smigo placed 123rd in the open 8-kilometer at the annual Paul Short Run, the highest that any first-year student has placed at the event since 2010.
Smigo said he began competing in seventh grade, but he grew up hearing stories about his dad’s days on his high school track team which inspired him to pick up the hobby.
“Every opportunity I had to run, I would take it,” Smigo said.
Smigo ran at Palisades High School, where he became the first four-time District 11 champion last fall.
When deciding where to go to college, he faced a decision between Lehigh and the University of Pittsburgh, the universities his parents attended.
Lehigh cross country coach Todd Etters said he was at an advantage in recruiting Smigo, who is from nearby Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, since Etters himself was once a student there.
“My children compete and my wife coaches in the same high school conference as (Smigo), so that gave me the advantage of being able to see him quite a bit,” Etters said.
With his decision to attend Lehigh, Smigo was ready to have his own path in a cross country program that he said felt like home.
Transitioning from high school to collegiate running is especially difficult, Etters said, due to the increased distance in races from 5,000 to about 8,000-10,000 meters.
In his first few races at Lehigh, Smigo said he was not performing as well as he felt he could and not achieving the goals he set for himself, but this changed.
“I just kind of had a switch turn on, if that makes sense,” Smigo said. “I just started paying attention to my diet, my sleep, even more than I was beforehand.”
Smigo put this transition into play at the Lehigh-Lafayette meet, finishing seventh.
Smigo and fellow first-year Noah Zahn both finished in the top seven in the meet against Lafayette.
“Around halfway through the race we kind of just ended up right next to each other and we had some Lafayette guys a tiny bit ahead of us,” Zahn said. “We both instinctively knew to push each other and both work to catch those Lafayette guys.”
Smigo and Zahn have developed a friendly competitive relationship to push each other in meets and during practice.
“Cross country is the ultimate team sport,” Etters said. “Everyone has to do the same exact thing and we are only judged as a team in how well we all do it at the same time under the exact same conditions.”
Smigo continued to adjust to running at a higher level at the Paul Short Run.
When he found out about his noteworthy time at the Paul Short Run, Smigo said he felt proud because of how good the teams have been since 2010.
Smigo continued his first-year success with a Patriot League Rookie of the Week award on Oct. 17 after recording an 8-kilometer time of 24:52.5 at the IC4A/ECAC Championships, the best among Patriot League first-years.
Outside of cross country, Smigo is undecided in the engineering school but plans on pursuing mechanical engineering. His goal at Lehigh is to maintain a GPA that is higher than he had in high school.
“I definitely have to work for that but I do think it’s very possible to do,” Smigo said. “So I’d say that would be my biggest goal, just to be better than I was in high school.”
But his aspirations for academics are just as high on the track. Smigo thinks the cross country team can be Patriot League champions this season.
The men’s cross country team will race next in the Patriot League Championship on Oct. 28 in Hamilton, New York.