It took Garrett Sweatt three-and-a-half years of his high school career to find the proper balance of focus and relaxation, but now he has it, and it just might lead to a state championship.
Sweatt, an Edwardsville senior, is the Suburban Journals/St. Louis Cardinals Madison County Male Athlete of the Year for 2011-12. He and other athletes from the St. Louis area were honored prior to the Cardinals game Tuesday at Busch Stadium.
A fifth-place finisher in the 3,200-meter run at the Class 3A state track meet in 2011, Sweatt placed fourth at the state cross country meet last fall.
But this spring, Sweatt has been blowing away the competition in the 3,200 and has been equally impressive in the 1,600.
“I’ve gone out there and given it my all,” Sweatt said. “I’ve run PRs (personal records) from early on and I keep on running PRs. I know what I’m capable of and I know I can win a state championship. It’s just going to come down to that day and if I’m ready to do it.”
Sweatt feels his improvement this year is more mental than physical.
“Last year, I had a lot of doubts in my head and I just wasn’t in the mindset that I needed to be in,” Sweatt said. “This past summer, I really kicked it into gear, knowing that I’m running well and running fast. I ended up getting fourth at state (in cross country) with my fastest time, 14:29 at Detweiller (Park in Peoria). I also tied Stephen Pifer’s best time of 14:20, which meant a lot to me.”
Pifer, a former cross country and track state champion at Edwardsville, went on to become a college all-American at the University of Colorado.
“Stephen holds the school record in the 3,200 (8:58, set in 2003) and I really hope to go after that,” Sweatt said.
Another source of inspiration for Sweatt is Lebanon’s Craig Virgin, an Olympian and World Cup winner who still holds numerous records at high school meets throughout the state. At the Belleville West Invitational on April 6, Sweatt had a time of 9:06.07 in the 3,200, shattering Virgin’s 40-year-old meet record of 9:11.
“It was awesome to be able to go out there and do that,” Sweatt said. “My dad and I looked at the record quite a few times and we felt that was one was not out of range.
“I’ve talked to (Virgin) before and he’s a great guy and he really loves the sport. being able to break one of his records is something special.”
Sweatt’s success comes as no surprise to his coaches.
“It’s a coach’s dream,” Edwardsville track coach Chad Lakatos said of working with Sweatt. “You don’t have to worry about checking grades and making sure he’s going to be eligible. you know he’s always going to be prepared and he’s going to work hard in practice. It’s been a real pleasure to be around Garrett and I’m happy for him.”
As good as Sweatt was the past three seasons, Lakatos sees a new level of confidence and dedication from him this year.
“Last year, Garrett was lacking a little bit of confidence and it carried over a little bit into the track season,” Lakatos said. “I know he didn’t finish where he wanted to this year in cross country, but the mental part of it is a lot more stable now. He’s really focused.”
Cross country coach George Patrylak, who also works with the distance runners on the track team, is anxious to see what Sweatt can accomplish.
“The biggest difference I can see in Garrett this year is that he’s gained confidence,” Patrylak said. “He was motivated by not having the kind of junior year in track and cross country that he wanted to have. He worked extremely hard during the offseason and prepared workouts that would challenge him.
“He wants to make up for what he feels was disappointment for his performances last year. for Garrett, it’s sometimes hard to understand that not every meet is about having your best times, and that some meets are about points. He always wants personal goals and he wants every race to be better than the last one.”
At the state meet, Sweatt plans to compete in both the 3,200 and the 1,600.
“I want to go for (team) points,” Sweatt said. “The better I do in the 3,200, I think it will help me in the 1,600 because I’m not going to be complacent just going for a state championship.
“In the 3,200, I want to make it an honest race at the beginning and not have to leave it to a kick (finish) to win it. In the 1,600, my goal is the top five, but I think I can be in the top three. I just need to stay up near the front and then make a move.”
In February, Sweatt announced he would attend Stanford University on a track and cross country scholarship. He plans to major in biochemistry and hopes to go into cancer research.
“It just fell into place for me and I love knowing that I’ll be able to go out there, but I’ve got a season at Edwardsville to finish up,” said Sweatt, who also considered the Illinois and Oklahoma. “Knowing people with cancer is something that’s touched me a few times over the years and it’s a major problem in general. It’s something that if I work hard, just like I do in running, maybe something good will come from it.”