Providence Day runner Nick Linder continues to improve
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Tuesday, Jul. 29, 2014

Providence Day runner Nick Linder continues to improve

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- COURTESY OF DEBBIE HUFFMAN
Providence Day rising senior Nick Linder hopes to lead the Chargers’ cross country team to a fifth straight state championship.

Nick Linder has had the same focus since he started running at 9 years old.

He first was encouraged by his mother, Julie, an avid runner who has competed in many races, including two Boston Marathons.

The younger Linder’s original motivation was to beat his mother after admittedly being embarrassed by her in his first official 5K at the Fourth of July Festival Free Run in Southport, near where his family takes its annual summer vacation.

“My mom beat me badly in that first race, and I remember telling her afterwards that she wouldn’t beat me again,” said Nick Linder, a rising senior at Providence Day. “And sure enough, that was the last time I lost to her.

“But she was the reason I started running, and has encouraged me throughout my career and been a big help to me all along.”

Linder, 17, started his cross country and track careers in eighth grade for the Providence Day middle-school team. Coach Ben Hovis said his focus, talent and work ethic were evident from the start.

“From the time I first met him, Nick always wanted to do everything the right way to get better,” Hovis said. “Nick has probably done all the little things that make you a better runner better than anyone I’ve ever coached. I’ve seen him grow from a scrawny little boy into a much stronger, confident young man.”

Linder is quick to credit Hovis for his growth.

“Coach Hovis has a lot to do with everything I’ve been able to accomplish,” Linder said. “He gave all the workouts, all the instruction, and I just followed the plan he had for me and worked as hard as I could. I’ve had (personal records) by the same amount each year and been on this constant upward curve.

“I probably could have been faster my freshman or sophomore year, but he really set my whole workout program for me to peak my junior and senior year. It’s really paid off.”

Linder’s results also have improved consistently, from a fifth place in the CISAA conference as a freshman to CISAA runner-up and fourth place at states on the course as a sophomore.

Last year, Linder finished as CISAA conference and NCISAA runner-up in cross country, running a personal-best 15 minutes, 34.92 seconds in the 3A state meet.

In each race, the only person he didn’t beat was his good friend and teammate Ben Huffman, now a runner at Harvard.

“I definitely learned a lot from training with Ben,” said Linder, whose Providence Day team has won four straight NCISAA 3A state cross country team titles. “Last year watching Ben have such a breakout year and all the things he did was very inspiring. When he went to the Great American (Cross Country Festival) and broke 15 minutes (running a 14:59 5K), I remember thinking how that time wasn’t even imaginable before.

“But when Ben did it, it opened doors mentally for me, and I began to think about how much I could do and how much more was possible.”

In the spring outdoor season, Huffman suffered a stress fracture, vaulting Linder into a leadership position and making him a critical piece of the team’s chance at repeating as NCISAA 3A outdoor champions.

Linder won his first two individual state titles – the 1,600-meter and 3,200-meter runs – while anchoring the 4x800-meter relay to its third straight state title. Providence Day won its second straight team title.

“I knew I had to step up and try to help my team win states again,” said Linder shortly after the outdoor season. “At states, it came down to the last lap, and I just put it all out there. Winning both (the 1,600 and 3,200) was almost too emotional. It’s still hard to put into words.”

“I think Nick really learned a lot about what he is capable of when Ben went down,” Hovis said. “His self-confidence and his leadership abilities really showed, and I believe he can be even better this season.”

Linder has been busy logging around 60 miles per week while also attending Stanford University’s summer camp and the Providence Day camp in Blowing Rock.

He also has visited colleges including N.C. State, Duke, Pennsylvania, Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford.

Linder, who has a 4.367 GPA, has a lot of options for college, as a student and an athlete. For now, however, he is focused on finishing his Providence Day career in style.

With a talented team around him, including classmate Jack Paddison, the Chargers expect to contend for championships again.

While winning a fifth straight team cross country state title and third straight outdoor state championship top Linder’s senior wish list, he also hopes to rewrite his personal records in as many events as possible.

Linder already owns the school record in the 800 meters (1:53.35) and the 1,600 meters (9:13.13), as well as the 4x800-meter relay.

“Of course, I want to win everything, every race that I run in,” Linder said. “But I also want to run the times that I’m shooting for as well. Time is something I keep to myself; if I can reach my goals, I should be right there in the big races.”

He also hopes strong cross country times bring him a berth in the Foot Locker Cross Country Nationals in December.

“I don’t know exactly how Nick’s season will turn out, because you have to earn everything,” Hovis said. “But I know Nick is going to run every race with a purpose and a reason, because that is what he has always done.

“He is always pushing himself. First, it was trying to break the middle-school record, then he tried to set a freshman record. Of course, for so long he tried to keep up with Ben, and he’s beaten some of his times.

“All of that has just continued, and he just keeps setting new goals for the next race.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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