By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER
It was the summer of 2013.
“I woke up one day and said, ‘I want to run,’ ” Elliot Gindi said. “Why did I say that? I think honestly I have no answer for that. It just popped into my head. I just wanted to try it.”
Gindi has emerged as a top distance runner at Ocean Township High School where he competes on the boys cross country, indoor track and spring track teams.
Gindi began his career in a 5 kilometer race at Lake Takanassee in Long Branch in the summer of 2013.
“After a long day in the gym at a basketball camp at Ocean, he comes home and tells his mom ‘I want to go run this race at Lake Takanassee,’ ” his dad David, said. “We pay the dollar or two for him to run. The gun goes off and he goes off like a bullet out of a gun. He had never run competitively. All he did was look back at the remainder of the field. People laughed and said, ‘The kid will never make it. He will die out.’ He ended up finishing second.
“We did not realize how good he was. People asked about where he was going to school. They asked about his times. When we learned he had a special talent for running, we decided it was best to put him in Ocean and let him grow with this.”
Gindi comes off an impressive summer season.
He competed in two races in Australia. He opened with a third-place 18:04 in the Suncorp Bank 5.7K Challenge in the Gold Coast area. He averaged 5:10 per mile in the road racing event.
A few days later, he competed in the All-American 5K in Brisbane and sped to first place in 16:50, again on the roads.
The Suncorp Bank event consisted of nearly 4,000 runners. Gindi began the race in the front toward the left side of the pack.
“I had never run in a race that large before,” he said. “It felt a little bit nerve wracking, but I told myself to calm down and stay relaxed. When the gun went off, I was ready to run. I felt pretty strong until the halfway point, but then the first two guys got out ahead of me. They sprinted during the second half of the race and I was not able to recover. They were a year older than I was at 17.”
But he enjoyed competing in the race.
“I liked the course,” he said. “It was very flat. I liked how there were no obstacles. It was basically straight with a turnaround. I trained very hard for the race through the spring track season and picked up my miles a lot so that I could be ready for it. I was doing about 30 miles per week prior to the race. For the balance of the summer, I ran 50 miles per week.”
Gindi said he approved of his time.
“I was happy with it,” he said. “I wanted to go sub-18. I think I did pretty well. I wanted to finish in the top five.”
Gindi was confident of victory in the race in Brisbane.
“I knew I was among the best in the nation,” he said, “but it still felt pretty amazing to win it. The course had its ups and downs and it was very hot, probably about 80-85 degrees. That course had its ups and downs.”
Gindi was well prepared for the race.
“The key to the win was my preparation,” he said. “I did my stretches and had water and fruit, an apple and a bottle of water.”
Gindi led from start to finish.
“There were guys from North Dakota and New Mexico behind me at the halfway point,” he said. “It was there when I started kicking and kicking and kicking. I put space between the second-place guy and myself. I knew I was going to finish among the top two. I knew I was the strongest kid out there as I was the first American finisher in the other race. I knew I had a shot to win this race.
“Knowing my name is out there and that I was better than everybody else makes the win special. I was very happy with my time. I did not have a time goal going into the race. I just wanted to win it.”
Gindi competed on the 2015 Down Under Sports Cross Country team of International Sports Specialists Inc., founded in February of 1989 by a New Zealander named George O’Scanlon, who fell in love with athletics, especially American football as a young man growing up in his native nation. Gindi raised about $7,000 for the trip through Down Under’s fundraising program. Down Under provided letters that athletes gave to their families and friends. Invited last November to compete, Gindi met his goal of raising the amount by June.
“Down Under reaches out to ‘x’ amount of students by state,” David Gindi said. “They hope each state has three or four athletes to represent the United States in their chosen sport. We said the invitation could be a good opportunity.”
Young Gindi thanked the donors.
“It feels great that people care about our sport,” he said. “It is not one of the popular sports like football, basketball and baseball. People actually care about running. It’s an all year round thing. Thank you so much for donating. I hope I did you proud. You believed in me. I did not really feel any pressure on myself to do well although people donated money.”
Gindi made it clear he enjoyed seeing kangaroos and kawala bears in the famed Land Down Under.
“I was able to hold a kawala bear,” he said, “and I fed kangaroos. It was pretty exciting. I did not know how they would react to me. Americans don’t get to take care of those animals. It was different and it was awesome.
“The trip was easily one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. We were in a very populated area with shops and malls and places to go. There were miles and miles of beaches. If you looked down a beach, you could not see the end of it.”
Gindi established himself as one of the state’s top cross country runners last season as a sophomore.
There was a 42nd-place finish in 16:33.00 at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions. He was ninth in the Group III state meet in 16:25. He placed sixth in Central Jersey Group III in 16:42.20. He finished 12th in the Shore Conference in 15:50. He was sixth in the Monmouth County meet in 16:45.16. He went 6-1 in dual meets, powering the Spartans to a 6-1 record.
The 6-footer has big goals for this season.
“I want to win the Monmouth County, Central Jersey Group III and Group III titles,” he said. “I feel great. I feel ready. I enjoy running cross country. I like being outdoors and being in the fresh air. I like the competition. The scenery is my favorite thing.”
Gindi’s favorite venue is hilly Holmdel Park.
“It is very, very challenging, which is what I like,” he said. “That’s the number one thing. I believe it is ranked as the toughest course on the East Coast. The woods are the best part. You are isolated from everyone and very compact. You are just focused on running. You are not focused on people screaming in your face or on horns going off everywhere.
“It is just you and the clock. I like it.”
Gindi has tossed basketball aside. The 160-pounder prefers striding out over shooting jumpers.
“Do I miss basketball?” he asked, repeating a question from The Coaster. “Nope. I like shooting hoops once in a while, but I don’t compete.”
Gindi, a two-time honor roll member, hopes to compete in college. Possible majors are either engineering or architecture.
“I haven’t chosen my college yet,” he said. “I hope for anywhere.”