Track and field coaches often urge runners to “hit the wall,” push themselves to the limit. It’s a lot easier said than done. All one had to do was watch Eric Cunha will himself to the finish line and then observe his body language afterward to know that the Riverhead High School senior had not only hit the wall, but burst through it.
“I pushed it so hard that the last lap, oh my God, with 50 meters left, my legs were shot,” Cunha said after the 1,000-meter race in the Section XI indoor state qualifier Monday night at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.
Cunha’s extreme efforts brought him second place, a personal-record time of 2 minutes, 33.13 seconds, and a place in his first state meet.
Did Cunha know he could run that fast?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “That hurt a lot. That was everything that I had right there.”
Cunha, whose previous personal record was 2:34.12, earned himself a place in the state championships that will be run March 4 at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.
Sachem North senior Christopher Tibbet was first in 2:30.45. Then Cunha, Ward Melville junior Danny Ryan (2:33.28) and Hauppauge senior Cullen Armstrong (2:33.52) crossed the line within a half-second of each other.
Assistant coach Justin Cobis, who works with Cunha and Riverhead’s other long-distance runners, was impressed by what he saw from Cunha.
“What you saw was despite all that, he just pushed through,” Cobis said. “He used his arms and his heart and he pushed right to the finish line. Our distance runners are always so mentally and emotionally tough, you know.
“I’m just so proud of him because I knew that one of his goals coming into the season was to make it to the state meet and he put an exclamation point on that goal.”
How did Cunha feel immediately after the race?
“I was dead tired,” he said. “I just wanted to fall down.”
The physical pain, however, may have been offset by the reward.
“I’m just so psyched to be going to the state meet,” he said. “It’s a huge accomplishment, probably one of my biggest accomplishments yet. It feels so nice.”
- Montenegro sixth in long jump. Shoreham junior Daniel Montenegro landed sixth in the long jump with a distance of 21 feet.
Photo caption: Riverhead senior Eric Cunha said he pushed himself to the limit in his second-place finish in the 1,000 meters in the Section XI indoor state qualifier. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)