There were no moments of apprehension or worry this season for Josiah Hanko when it came to running cross country.
Those thoughts of concern went out the window after Hanko’s first season of cross country in 2012, when he went from an almost unknown to winning a state group championship and a 12th place finish at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.
In his junior year, Hanko helped to put to tiny Trinity Christian in Montville on the statewide cross country map and by the end of the year, everyone knew exactly who he was and the talent he possessed.
So when Hanko prepared for his senior year, he had one thought already in his mind. He knew he could do it — and do it again.
“Last season, it was more like I was trying to see how well I could do,” Hanko said. “This year, I had to live up to the expectations I set last year. Overall, there wasn’t a lot of pressure, but I had goals in mind. I wanted to win the Morris County championship. I wanted to see if I could win the Meet of Champions. I wanted to see how it would all work out.”
But there was an air of confidence this fall.
“I definitely think comfortable is the word,” Hanko said. “I was definitely more comfortable running cross country this year.”
Trinity Christian coach Brian Lee, who has trained Hanko since he was basically a toddler, sensed the change in Hanko as well.
“I think the year helped him,” Lee said. “We worked on hills in the summer to get ready for this year. Last year, he was learning on his feet. He just had to get it into his head that he was extremely talented.”
However, Hanko had a lot on his plate as he prepared for his final cross country campaign.
For one, Hanko was weeding through the college process, considering scholarship offers from a host of schools, eventually deciding on Duke.
At the same time, Hanko was going through the methodical process that comes with being an Eagle Scout. Hanko has been involved in scouting since he was 12 and becoming an Eagle Scout was extremely important to him.
“I take Boy Scouts very seriously and the only way to reach Eagle Scout was to conduct a community service project,” Hanko said. “I’m very involved with my troop and I had to give up a little of my scouting for meets. My brother, Aaron, was an Eagle Scout, so he gave me a lot of encouragement.”
Hanko organized a group of volunteers — both scouts and others — to help clean and restore the food pantry in his hometown of Montville. Hanko cleaned the area, then painted it. He also organized the fundraising to buy the products for the restoration.
“I got volunteers, friends, people from the community,” Hanko said. “The whole thing took about 250 work hours. I had to send out fundraising letters, so the paperwork took some time as well.”
So Hanko had to juggle his cross country regimen, worry about his college decision and dedicate a lot of his time to his Eagle Scout project.
“It was a very tough fall for me,” Hanko said.
Hanko tried his best not to allow the hectic schedule get in the way of his running.
He started the year with a third place finish at the Randolph Invitational C race, where he ran a solid 15:59. He duplicated that time at the Shore Coaches Invitational in Holmdel, where he finished second in the Open Championship race.
Hanko then won the Morris County championship he so coveted — and did so by setting a new course record at Greystone Park in a sensational 15:24.30, breaking the old record set by former 2011 All Daily Record Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year Morgan Pearson of Delbarton (currently at the University of Colorado).
“That’s when he finally realized it,” Lee said. “He realized that he had a special talent after winning the county the way he did. He really began to believe in himself. He knew he was a good track runner. But when he ran that time at Greystone, that’s when he knew.”
Hanko suffered a calf injury that took some attention after the county meet, but he came back to win the NJSIAA Non-Public B state championship at Holmdel for a second straight year in 15:38.02.
A week later, Hanko was all set for the Meet of Champions, when he started to feel awkward toward the end of the race.
“I started to feel weak and I had blurred vision,” Hanko said. “I just had to try to push it through.”
At the time of his discontent, Hanko was third. He managed to cross the finish line in ninth place overall in 15:45.49, but collapsed after the race, needing emergency medical attention.
As it turned out, Hanko was suffering from Lyme disease, and had no idea.
“We got the blood work and that’s what came out,” Hanko said. “At least, now I know.”
Still, with all he had to go through and for what he achieved, Hanko is the All Daily Record Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year for 2013, duplicating the honor he received a year ago. Hanko is the first boys runner to repeat the honor.
Hanko is currently resting and preparing for an abbreviated indoor season, concentrating on getting healthy for the outdoor campaign.
Hanko received word last week that his project was approved by the Boy Scouts Court of Honor. He will receive his Eagle Scout badge sometime in February.
“It’s a big accomplishment to do that,” Hanko said. “I was able to do my running, my school work, the project. I would say that I’m not disappointed at all. I had a lot of things going on obviously, but I performed well.”
“I’d say it’s pretty incredible,” Lee said. “He’s quite a great kid. He’s mature, smart, knows what he wants. When he gets something in his mind to do it, he does it. It helps that he has the body, but now, he’s come to believe in himself. I’m very thankful with the way he’s responded.”