One day was a stellar scholar athlete going about his life as a normal high school senior. Then suddenly, he was a local celebrity.
He became a celebrity because of the sportsmanship he showed Walled Lake Northern sophomore Devin Kimberlin during a track meet earlier this spring.
It all started one day in May – Zuk was at the starting line of one his favorite track races, the 3,200 meter.
The race started and Zuk, the favorite to win, took off leading the pack. Behind him was Northern's Kimberlin. Kimberlin, according to a letter written by Northern parent Dave Routledge about the race, had fought all season to break the 10 minute time in this race – something Zuk had done most of the season. At the 800 mark, Kimberlin had fallen behind and was 5 seconds behind the 10 minute pace set by Zuk, who was in the lead.
“As Northern’s coach, Jeff McNeil yelled encouragement to Kimberlin, spectators and athletes saw Zuk turn and say something to the Northern runner,” Routledge wrote. “Some thought that he was taunting him. Lakeland and Northern are fierce rivals in every sport. But anyone that knows Garret Zuk knew that nothing could be further from the truth. What the Bogey Lake nemesis and state champion was saying to Kimberlin was, ‘Stay on my shoulder and I’ll get you there’.”
For the next six laps, Zuk kept pace and encouraged Kimberlin. In the final lap, Zuk continued to push and motivate Kimberlin. As the two neared the finish line, Zuk slowed up, just a second, and let Kimberlin pass him – winning the race, and finally beating his under 10 minute goal with a time of 9:58.
The media attention started slowly but grew as the story hit the Associated Press news wire. It made for a “crazy” few weeks, in the words of the Lakeland High graduate.
“All the attention really exploded quickly,” Zuk said. “The way I look at it that was a great moment for Lakeland athletics because it showed what Lakeland athletes are all about. It was crazy though, I had reporters at practice waiting for me to finish and taking pictures. I was talking to (The Detroit News) and on the radio.”
That extra attention was no big deal for Zuk but some of his family and friends have given him some good-natured grief over it. One friend even jokingly asked if Garret had cured cancer yet.
“It’s okay," he said. "It’s a good story and I guess I was happy about the way I was able to represent my school and the sport.”
While more people may know Garret’s name, he is the same person now as he was before all the media attention. Zuk is now starting his college career as a cross country and track athlete, and Honors College student at Michigan State University. He will major in mechanical engineering.
Zuk made the choice to attend Michigan State over Michigan, Iowa State and Purdue once he realized that he wanted to stay close to home. At that point the choice was down to MSU and U-M, but there were several factors favoring the Spartans, namely the ability to get more scholarship money and the opportunity to earn extra money as a research assistant in the engineering department in East Lansing.
Zuk said he also felt comfortable with Michigan State cross country and track coach Walt Drenth because the Lakeland High graduate feels that Drenth understands the individual needs of each athlete he has coached.
“Both have great academic programs but I just liked the extra opportunities at Michigan State,” Zuk said. “I really am happy to be in the Honors College there and coach Drenth has a really fatherly and caring attitude.”
Cross country practices started Aug. 20 in East Lansing and soon the team will head to Leelanau in northern Michigan for a few days for outdoor training. In preparation for the Big Ten season, Zuk has trained an average of 90 minutes per day on weight training and running. At the start of the summer he was running nearly 30 miles per week but at the end he has been running 60 miles per week.
That was part of a training program that the Michigan State coaching staff provided to Zuk and his fellow freshmen. He is not sure how much he will compete on the team this season, but the coaching staff says the goal for incoming freshmen is to get stronger and more experienced as they move forward.
“It has been a fun summer and I have been doing more weight training here than I ever have before,” Zuk said. “I’m just focusing in training, preparing and really getting into the best shape I have ever been in. I expect that this will be tough and a real challenge for me because we have a lot of talent on the team.”
The track season starts in the winter with indoor competition, which Zuk considers to be perhaps the biggest difference between high school and college track – the emphasis on the indoor winter season.
Zuk expects to run 3,000 meters indoor and 5,000 meters during the outdoor track season in the spring. “They really use indoor track as a basis for the outdoor season,” Zuk said.
With the 2012 Olympics now over, Zuk admits he is paying attention to the long-distance running events. He still has that dream of significant personal achievements in his sports.
“What’s great is that you can watch just about any NCAA championship or other (long distance) events around the world online,” Zuk said. “You can study what the best athletes in the world are doing.”
Who knows what media attention Garret will be garnering in another four years.
- Brooke Tajer contributed to this report