Beating the best youth cross country runners in Canada is a huge accomplishment, but doing so in borrowed shoes topped it off with a uniquely satisfying element for Terrace-based Tyler Dozzi.
Dozzi had forgotten his shoes the morning of his national race Nov. 26, competing with 223 of the best youth runners in Canada in Kingston, Ontario.
As he warmed up, his stomach was already knotted with nervousness when he was suddenly jolted to realize he was missing his cross country shoes, made with spiked grip for added traction.
“I realized 15 minutes before the race that I forgot to bring my spikes… There’s no way I would have won without proper spikes,” he said.
After a mad scramble and an announcement over the loudspeaker, Dozzi said someone named Dave came through with a pair that “fit good enough.”
He slipped them on his feet just five minutes before the gun shot, and refocused his mind as he crouched at the starting line.
His strategy was the same as provincials.
“It was important to get out hard and get out fast near the front,” Dozzi said, explaining how he quickly wove his way to the lead pack and matched his speed with the group.
Runners started slipping back quite early on while the leaders pounded out a strong pace, but Dozzi kept up his speed, staying near the front and biding his time in the first of three 2K laps.
As they rounded the end of lap two, an Ontario runner named Joshua Desouza started to make a move, widening the gap on the field.
“I didn’t want to let anybody get away from me… so I followed him,” Dozzi said, explaining how he kicked up his pace to get in second place, 10 metres behind Desouza.
But Desouza slowed half a minute later, tempting Dozzi to take the lead. Dozzi held back.
“I knew that I didn’t want to take the lead if I wasn’t going to make it a definitive and powerful decision,” he said.
But shortly after, not wanting the rest of the pack to catch up, Dozzi made his move.
“I knew the guy behind me had a strong kick, so I decided that I wasn’t going to let it come down to the kick,” Dozzi said, adding that he wanted a strong gap before the last 200 metres so that he wouldn’t be able to catch up.
Dozzi took off with about 1.5 km left, sprinting a short uphill followed by a long downhill where he claimed about 40 metres of distance.
“I kept it up on the next uphill,” Dozzi said. “The final stretch was downhill and then flat.”
Legs burning for that entire last kilometre, Dozzi said it took a lot of willpower not to ease up.
“I just had to stay focused and not slow down, not let my pace waver at all. I knew that a single mistake could let the guy behind me catch up.”
“I definitely thought about how cool it would be to win nationals in borrowed shoes,” Dozzi said, explaining how he focused his mind.
“It was a big relief crossing the finish line,” he said.
With an average page of 3:08, Dozzi claimed national gold with a nine second lead, finishing the 6K race in 18:50.9.
He says his mind now goes to all the people who stood behind him in his running.
“They all helped,” he said. “Everybody who supported me and believed in me, especially my parents and coach and my family.”
Running in the junior nationals for youth does not qualify Dozzi for worlds, but coach Deacon said they felt it would be wiser to do that next year, and use this year to make a strong stand to open university doors. That is the aim in his upcoming indoor season of track and field.
Dozzi has scholarship offers already, but his hope is to get a full ride to a university with strong running programs and high-level academics, like Syracuse University in New York, University of Wisconson or University of Michigan.
Dozzi says he plans to study engineering because physics and calculus are his best subjects.
But before university, Dozzi hopes dominate the outdoor track and field season next summer and qualify to compete in the 2017 Panamerican Games in Peru.
The annual North American championship will see only two runners on Team Canada.
“I’ve never made a national team before, so that’d be pretty cool,” he said.