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Georgia runner and redshirt freshman Nicholas Yanek (110) pulls forward at the 4k mark of the race. UGA hosted Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech in its first and only home meet of the season, the Bulldog Invitational, in Athens, Georgia on Aug 31, 2019. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean)

Redshirt freshman Nicholas Yanek is finally getting his chance to run for the Georgia cross country team this season. 

Before ever racing in uniform last year, Yanek was injured in the dining hall. He was walking to the dish return while carrying a stack of dishes when he tripped and dropped them on his knee. 

“I just totally fell, and it smacked just like the tip of it. It must have been the spot or the amount, I don’t know,” Yanek said. “I’m definitely accident prone.”

Yanek was able to redshirt last season since the incident happened before Georgia’s first meet. He took the season to recover and began training again in November 2018.

Yanek and his teammates now joke about this, calling it the “salad plate incident.” 

“When we made the decision to redshirt him and not run in uniform, we were hoping he would get the development of a full year in our system at Georgia and be able to come out and run at a high level,” distance coach Patrick Cunniff said. “Now what we are seeing in cross country [from Yanek] really matches up to what we were hoping for.” 

Since overcoming the incident, Yanek has had a successful first season. He has already been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times and has been the top runner for the Georgia men in every race.  

“It’s definitely exciting putting on the Georgia uniform,” Yanek said. “You get to see it and are like, ‘Oh wow, it’s real.’”

Yanek credits his teammates for helping him have a successful season so far. Their teamwork and motivation help calm his nerves when starting a race. 

“Our team chemistry this year has been really good, so that definitely helps going into the race,” Yanek said. “After the race, we all hang out around the finish area and wait for everyone to get across the line and cheer them on.”

Freshman Wesley John also experienced a setback, but he felt the same team motivation as Yanek. At the NCAA Pre-Nationals Invitational on Oct. 19, John fainted during the men’s 8K race. 

But John knew he had to finish the race — not only for himself, but for his team. 

“I passed out at mile four and then realized I was in the race, so I got up and finished,” John said. “I didn’t eat enough before the race. I thought I could get by eating a little running breakfast at 9:00 and that’s it, but I should’ve had a big breakfast and sandwich at 10:00.”

John learned from his mistake and is looking forward to improving and continuing the season. 

“I just want to help the older guys as much as I can,” John said. “Being a freshman, obviously I’m not winning these races, but I want to be consistent for the team so we can keep going and hitting our goals.”

The Georgia cross country team has been training and working toward their goals all season. At the NCAA Pre-Nationals Invitational, four Georgia runners finished in the top 50. 

Yanek and John are both proof that no matter the setback, their team will be there to help them overcome it.  

“Someone asked me the other day ‘Would you rather win nationals as an individual or as a team?’ With your team — with all the guys that got you there — to me, that would be the best part,” John said.

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