Wilk sets goal, strives for greatness
All-American T&F athlete aims 1:50 mark in 800
Senior mid-distance runner Jeremy Wilk of the Grand Valley State University track and field team has spent the past five years working toward six seconds.
It can be hard to understand what a difference six seconds can make, but for Wilk, six seconds could mean closing out his collegiate career with a spot on the podium for his performance in the 800-meter run at the GLIAC Championships in March.
The Wood Dale, Ill., product has come a long way since 2009, when he spent his first couple of years as a Laker overcoming a stress fracture injury suffered in high school.
“It was really a struggle for me in that point in time,” he said. “I was behind the curve when I first got here. I really had to put in a lot of work to get where I wanted to be.”
He came to GVSU with a personal-best 800 time of 1:56.90 but was limited in his first couple of years.
He notched a few top-10 performances in his sophomore season but wasn’t satisfied with his pair of seventh-place finishes in the GLIAC Indoor Championships (1.56.68) and Outdoor Championships (1.54.37).
Nevertheless, he continued to work toward his ultimate goal: finishing the 800 in less than 1:50.
“Jeremy is one of the hardest working guys I know,” teammate Ethan Barnes said. “Every day in practice he brings the same focus and mentality with him. It’s what makes him the competitor that he is.”
Wilk continued to pursue the 1:50 mark, and he began to see results during his junior year.
He finished in the top nine of every event he competed in during the indoor season and took home sixth-place at the GLIAC Outdoor Championships with a time of 1:52.78.
He later cut his 800 time down to 1:52.30 at the Mt. SAC Relays — still two seconds away from his ultimate goal — but his coaches appreciated his willingness to improve and decided to give him the chance to shine in other events as well.
He showcased his versatility in the mile and 600 meter, and under head coach Jerry Baltes’ training philosophy, he managed to take home first-place finishes in both events during his junior campaign.
“We put him in longer and also shorter races from time to time to better himself in his best event, which happens to be the 800,” Baltes said. “He’s a really strong athlete who really takes every opportunity that he gets.”
Wilk’s abilities extended to the distance medley relay team, which took home the GLIAC Indoor Championship with a 9:53.34 performance.
The relay team went on to finish third at nationals, and by doing so, Wilk earned his first USTFCCCA All-American honor.
“The DMR is one of the more unique events,” he said. “The entire team seems to gather together for that one — it tends to create a lot of energy and momentum for us. It’s something my teammates and myself feed off of.”
He is now a team leader of the No. 5 Lakers and will attempt to duplicate the All-American success this year in his final season.
His ultimate goal is still in sight, but his pursuit of greatness now transcends the individual level. His primary focus is doing whatever it takes to help the team capture a Division II National Championship after the Lakers came away with a fourth-place finish in 2013.
“We’re getting there,” he said. “We can picture it, but we still need to come together in some areas. If we put our maximum effort and focus into each and every practice (and) meet, we can achieve it.”
Whether he attains both of his goals is yet to be seen, but this fifth-year senior has laid out a path of what it takes for a track and field athlete to reach their fullest potential: set a goal, and strive for greatness.