The 21-year-old professional triathlete carries a lot of inspiration into Sunday’s Carlsbad 5000.
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.
— Pharrell Williams
Lukas Verzbicas will have Carlsbad 5000 spectators putting their hands together for him come Sunday.
They should. He’s happy and that’s the truth.
“I have everything an athlete needs,” he said.
He planted his flag in Chula Vista this past year, working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center while dining on a delicacy that makes San Diego County special.
“Mexican food,” Verzbicas said, “it’s one of my weaknesses.”
Would it be surprising if he leaned toward the combo plate?
His stellar resumes shows being an elite miler in the prep ranks, a two-time Foot Locker National Cross Country champion, and impressive in triathlon showings.
“The best way to describe me is a runner who happens to be a triathlete,” said Verzbicas, one of five prep athletes to run a sub-4:00 mile.
He neglected to mention the part about being an inspiration. Maybe his mouth was full from a bite of taco.
But Verzbicas’ tenacity is uplifting as he rebounds from a serious cycling accident that nearly robbed him of the joys of competing.
“To come back this far means so much,” he said. “I am so thankful.”
Verzbicas counts his blessings while recalling his misfortune on July 31, 2012.
A patch of wet sand at the end of a steep downhill separated Verzbicas from his bike, road rash being the least of his worries. Instead, his medical chart revealed a broken collarbone, two fractured vertebra and a collapsed lung. Add post-operation paralysis in his right leg and Verzbicas’ future was in doubt.
“Not often, but I thought about throwing in the towel one or two times,” said Verzbicas, who was hospitalized for two months. “In the beginning and even last year, which was more like a recovery year for me. But I taught myself to be patient.”
That’s difficult for someone always on the go at a pace that leaves others eyeing his backside. But for Verzbicas, job No.1 translated into channeling the patience of Job.
“I told myself, ‘You will come back’ and now I see it,” Verzbicas said. “My training is coming along and I’m getting my speed back.”
Verzbicas, who is coached by 800-meter Olympic champion Joaquim Cruz, credits the support he received from family and friends. But also competitors and runners he’s met along the way.
His path was bumpy at times and like anyone, he’s struggled to keep pushing forward. But by working at the U.S. Olympic Training Center he’s rubbing shoulders with Paralympians and challenged athletes.
So whenever Verzbicas is tempted to tap his brakes, he sees someone fighting through a rougher break.
“I’m running on the track, I’m really tired and I’ll have four more to go,” Verzbicas said. “Then one of my blind friends is blowing past and beating me and I think I’ve got to get tougher.”
Verzbicas says it with a laugh, but he’s also serious.
Sure it’s great training with the sport’s best, but there’s something about training with athletes oozing with determination.
“I see it every day and it is inspiring for me to be alongside them,” he said. “And there is sort of a bond between us that we all went through something. We understand each other a little better and it’s nice to talk about it with someone who has experienced something similar.”
Good luck playing the pity card when getting lapped by an athlete in a wheelchair, eh Lukas?
“They tell me their story and how they came back from serious injuries and that gives me hope,” he said. “I see these little kids have all this ability and doing what they are doing and it is just amazing.”
So is Verzbicas’ journey, which has him competing at Sunday’s 29-under age group race at the Carlsbad 5000. He finished third in 15:22 last year.
He recently won the Oceanside Turkey Trot of five miles and he’s aiming to do something similar at Carlsbad.
“This year I’m going for the win,” he said, “but I don’t know how fast the race will be.”
He just knows it will be fun with a spirited Carlsbad crowd willing athletes to the tape.
“You just run faster,” Verzbicas said of the jolt from those cramming the 3.1-mile trek. “They’re like five-deep all along the course and they are there for you and to support you. It is my favorite course.”
Those spectators just might have a new favorite runner when Verzbicas speeds by.
He’ll be the one smiling because he’s happy — and that’s the truth.
About The Author:
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.