Running with passion

Developing a passion for a certain sport often starts at a very young age. But that wasn’t the case for Nick Ntoukas.

The 16-year-old grew up not really liking cross-country running very much, but he remembers vividly the moment his feelings changed.

“[In] grade 10, I made it to OFSAA for 3000 metres and that just opened my eyes,” said the grade 12 student at East York Collegiate. “I felt like, ‘I want to win this race.’ So I started training hard.”

Since then, Ntoukas has become the unofficial captain of the East York cross-country team. He placed fifth in the south region last year as an individual and ninth in the city of Toronto, while his cross-country team earned a bronze medal.

Ntoukas’s love for the sport grew as he realized the challenge of cross-country running is also actually the charm.

“I just like that you’re competing against yourself,” he said. “It’s the hardest sport you could do.”

Learning to develop that passion for cross-country running, which has led to considerable success, has not been without some sacrifice. Ntoukas gave up playing hockey in an effort to focus solely on his running. Head coach Dimitra Tsanos can see the passion.

“I’ll come [to school] in the morning, and he’ll be running on his own,” she said. “He runs like twice a day. His love [for running] has just taken over.”

It is Ntoukas’s ability to push himself that Tsanos admires most about the 16-year-old.

“He’s so determined,” she said. “He’s got such drive that you don’t see in a lot of kids and self-motivation is so important at his age.

“Drive and motivation, he just has it in him.”

That is something that is not lost on universities looking to recruit Ntoukas. He has attracted attention from south of the border, but Ntoukas already has his heart set on attending school somewhere closer to home.

“I’m pretty sure I want to go to U. of T.,” he said. “I train with the U. of T. track club so I know all the coaches. It won’t be much of a change from high school to university.”

Getting accepted at the University of Toronto won’t be too difficult for Ntoukas. In addition to being a determined runner, he also boasts exceptional marks.

Tsanos can attest to that, having been his geography teacher in both grade 9 and 11.

“I had him last year and he was one of the top students and I know he’s a good student in all of his other studies,” she said. “He’s well behaved, he does his work, so that’s important too.

“He balances it really well [school and athletics]. He doesn’t take advantage of the fact that he’s away from school. He makes sure that he tells his teacher.”

Though classes, homework and year-round training seems like a handful, Ntoukas takes it all in stride. He makes sure that his love for running doesn’t get in the way of his education.

“It’s not really a problem [balancing school and running],” he said. “You just go and make sure you put school first.”