SECTION XI INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONSHIPS/STATE QUALIFIER
One of Ryan Udvadia’s biggest fans is none other than his coach, Bob Szymanski. Szymanski believes in Udvadia, and not only speaks highly of the Shoreham-Wading River High School senior, but puts his money where his mouth is.
Before the 3,200-meter race in the Section XI individual boys track and field championships/state qualifier on Friday, another coach wagered one dollar that Udvadia would not finish in first place. Szymanski accepted the bet.
This was a different sort of challenge for Udvadia, though. Since Shoreham had been bumped up to Division I from Division II, it meant that Udvadia faced tougher competition, most notably Northport’s McGowan twins, Tim and Jack. The two seniors were the top two seeds, with Udvadia No. 3 when they stepped onto the track at Port Jefferson High School for the first day of the two-day meet.
“There’s no slouches in that field he was in,” Szymanski said. “You cannot make a mistake in a race like that.”
Udvadia didn’t. Showing his customary patience, he was near the back of the pack early in the race before picking off a handful of runners to move into fifth place for a while. He waited for the right moment to make his next move.
“This was one of my biggest races today so I told myself I got to run this extremely smart, no mess-ups at all, start out slow and just wait for the right moment,” he said.
That moment came with about 450 meters to go. Udvadia pulled in front for the lead, but that didn’t mean the race was over. Far from it. He still had the McGowans hot on his heels, and he could hear them. “I was extremely nervous because I know how those guys can kick,” said Udvadia.
Meanwhile, a nervous Szymanski was standing in the coaching box in the infield as he watched the drama unfold, dying.
“With about a hundred [meters] to go, he still was up seven or eight meters,” Szymanski said. “I got a little antsy.”
But Udvadia tore through the last lap in 54.7 seconds — one of his fastest 400-meter times — and flew to the finish line first, raising his arms in triumphant fashion.
“He was perfect,” said a delighted Szymanski.
Udvadia won the race, a place in the upcoming state meet, and one dollar for his coach. He pulled off the impressive victory in 9:16.35, ahead of Tim McGowan (9:17.65) and Jack McGowan (9:20.13).
Udvadia, coming off a four-win performance in the division championships, said the victory rated as one of his greatest in track. “I ran smart,” he said. “I was determined. You’d be surprised how much mentally you need to be there. It’s 50 percent mental and 50 percent physical.”
Szymanski said Udvadia showed intestinal fortitude. “I saw the old Ryan,” he said. “He’s back.”
It has been a bit of an unusual season for Udvadia. Szymanski said Udvadia was not healthy this past winter and he was “kind of burned out so he didn’t run as many races this spring … but he trained harder.”
Udvadia said he started training in mid-February amid concern about burnout, “but today I didn’t feel it at all. I felt amazing.”
Szymanski saw encouraging times from Udvadia in recent weeks. In the week leading up to the state qualifier, Udvadia was clocked running 800-meter times ranging from 2:01 to 2:10. “I knew he was ready,” said Szymanski.
Udvadia’s 3,200 time wasn’t the personal record of 9:02.05 that he ran last year at the Loucks Games or the 9:04.44 he clocked earlier this season at the Loucks Games, but it was still good enough to book a ticket for him to the state meet for the second straight year. He has a chance to also qualify for the state meet in the 1,600 and the 4×800-meter relay, which he will run on Saturday. The state championships will be held June 6 and 7 at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
The sight of Szymanski being thrilled over his victory had an affect on Udvadia, who said, “I’m glad I was able to make him proud because when I see him proud, I’m proud.”
Szymanski was excited over what he said was one of the best races he has seen Udvadia run. Said the coach, “I never bet against him.”