Aidan Fitzgerald shattered a school record held for 31 years. But the Durango High School senior wants more, something he has had on his mind since his freshman year, and that is for the Demons to reclaim the boys cross-country state title.
“Obviously, we have a lot of talent, but there’s a lot of teams who are more talented than us,” Fitzgerald said. “But when we combine talent and hard work, we’re going to be really hard to beat. At regionals and the state meet, everybody will be running for each other. Cross-country is one of the only sports where I feel like, if you put the successes of the team before the successes of the individual, you will individually succeed.”
That was the case for Fitzgerald two weeks ago, as he ran 5 kilometers in 15 minutes, 5.31 seconds at the Nike Desert Twilight XC Festival in Arizona. He had the 20th fastest 5K time in the country, and it was a personal best. The time broke the previous school record held by Alex Accetta, who ran 15:26.00.
“When I was approaching the finish line, the record was definitely crossing my mind, for sure, but I actually didn’t have a whole lot of confidence coming into this race because of the two meets before,” Fitzgerald said. “But I knew it was a fast course, no hills or nothing, and it was going to be fast. Immediately after the race, I knew, but I was more focused on place, and, sometimes in cross-country, it’s more about your place rather than times.”
While Fitzgerald, son of Mike and Shari, knew the course conditions were in his favor, it also helped to see some of the country’s top runners. Valor Christian’s Cole Sprout had the nation’s fastest 5K in 14:32.02, while Niwot’s Cruz Culpepper was not far behind in 14:46.63. Kirtland Central’s Kashon Harrison was third in 14:49.49.
“I knew going into the race that the top tier of Colorado runners would be there, and then, after that, I knew there would be a lot of competition out of state, as well,” Fitzgerald said. But, looking around in the race, I was looking to find that elite pack, and I knew I was right there, and it really helped me hang on and cling to that pack.”
DHS had coach Ken Flint has long known about Fitzgerald’s speed. His son, Marcus, has grown up with Aidan.
“This is my first year coaching him and he’s a talent, he always has been,” Flint said. “Him and my son have been playing soccer and basketball ever since they were little, and he was always the fastest one. He has that raw speed and was always the quickest kid on the court type of thing. He’s dedicated to his running and put in a good summer of work, and he wants this and he’s hungry. He deserves all of the accolades he’s getting right now because he’s been putting in the work.”
Fitzgerald believes breaking the 15-minute barrier is not out of the realm of possibilities heading down the stretch of this season.
“That was definitely teased at Desert Twilight,” Fitzgerald said. “Last year, there were only two kids that did it, but if you watched it this year, there were six kids who did it, and I was close, I just have to get up to that lead pack when we do it again. It’s all about the work that you do leading up to it and preparing for it.”
While his expectations for himself are high, his coach believes that they should be even higher for the team.
“I think this group is just as talented that won the title in 2015, if not more,” Flint said. “The thing is, everybody is just as talented, and we’d have to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation right now as far as time average time in Niwot. There’s a lot of good competition, but we’re right there. With our top four and Aidan at the front, we’ve got the strongest seven in the state bar none, and I’m confident in saying that.”
Fitzgerald and the Demons will prepare for the regional meet Oct. 18 at Mesa Ridge High School in Colorado Springs.