Mountain Lakes coach Vicki Allison always knows where to meet Stephen Lewandowski after his races. She just looks for the trash can closest to the finish line. Frequently, that’s where Lewandowski will be, hoping the endorphin sensations that came from exerting himself don’t turn foul.
“Most people hate running because of the pain, but I sometimes enjoy it,” said Lewandowski, the 2012 All Daily Record Boys Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“I enjoy the feeling afterward, that you worked that hard and you feel so good about yourself. I like the feeling when you give everything, 100 percent. I don’t really get that from any other sport.”
Lewandowski has been known for his work ethic and supreme talent almost since he began running as a 10-year-old. He had played ice hockey since first grade, but decided to switch sports. He tried lacrosse for a year, then followed his brother, Brent Lewandowski, onto the track.
Stephen Lewandowski ran the 800, the longest race available in the Mountain Lakes rec program at the time, but dabbled in other track and even field events. He was part of a New York Athletic Club youth relay which competed at the prestigious Millrose Games – and soon set a goal of returning to the event as an individual, which he finally did this past winter.
The younger Lewandowski brothers trained and competed together at Briarcliff Middle School, when Stephen was in sixth grade and Brent in eighth.
“He was the fastest guy on the team, so I would try to stay with him, but he would beat me,” recalled Lewandowski, who ran a sub-five-minute mile in eighth grade. “I wanted to be better than him. That was my ultimate goal.”
Few distance runners were faster than Lewandowski this spring.
He broke the meet record in the 1,600 meters (personal-best 4:10.17) at the Morris County Championships, leading from start to finish, then came back the next day to win the 3,200 and place second in the 800 (personal-best 1:55.34). He would continue to lower his own records, slicing four seconds off the North 1 Group I 1,600 – the start of a trio of sectional gold medals as Mountain Lakes finished second overall.
“I don’t think Steve has ever had a bad race,” Allison said. “All the years I’ve coached him, he always shows up big. He would run through a wall for you. When he crosses the line, you can see he’s given you all he has.”
Lewandowski also won the 1,600 and 3,200 at Group I, and anchored the Lakers’ 4×400 to fifth, helping his team win its first Group championship. He ran another personal best while finishing second in the 1,600 at the Meet of Champions (4:08.28).
Yet Lewandowski said the emergence of Mountain Lakes freshman distance runner Ben DeVenezia was the biggest highlight of the season.
“Once he steps on the track, I think he feels at home and it feels right to him,” DeVenezia said. “He knows what he can do, and he knows how hard he wants to push himself. The fact that he can push himself farther each time, I think that keeps driving him to do better and keep running.”
The All Daily Record Cross Country Runner of the Year this past fall, Lewandowski earned four varsity letters each in cross country and outdoors, but had been a swimmer his first three years in high school. He started the winter in the water, then trained by himself for an independent indoor season.
Memorable for his dark-framed glasses and blonde curls, Lewandowski had two eye surgeries to correct double vision, one as a child and another in December. He will continue his running career at Clemson in the fall, and hopes run a four-minute mile. Lewandowski plans to go into a field which allows him to help people. Away from the track, Lewandowski enjoys Five Guys’ cheeseburgers with barbecue sauce, onions and bacon – “the best thing after a run” – and playing basketball and pool Frisbee.
“He was always a quiet kid, very humble, but when you saw him run, there was something special about him,” said Mountain Lakes senior Derek Musciano, a middle-school opponent turned teammate. “You’ll start running with him, and then he’ll break away and go faster. You want to work harder and better yourself so you can be on a level with him. It’s a testament to his personality. He’s really a humble guy… but he knows he’s capable of doing great things.”