Mitchell Shurtz is nowhere close to the runner he knows he could become.
The statement is staggering, considering Shurtz, a Northwest senior, will enter the Class 6A track and field meet this week at Cessna Stadium on the short list of contenders to win the title in the 800 meters. He will also run a leg on Northwest’s 1600 relay team, which is also vying for a gold medal.
But it is undeniably true. Shurtz was blessed with the endurance from his father, a standout distance runner in his time, and the speed from his mother, a former college sprinter. He’s a two-time City League champion in the 1600 with the ability to run a sub-50-second quarter-mile.
“He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve ever coached,” said Northwest coach Ron Russell, who has trained distance runners for better than two decades. “He’s got a kick that most people in the state can’t come close to. There’s no telling what he could do in college. His potential is unlimited.”
This weekend’s state meet could serve as a springboard for Shurtz’s running career. Instead, it could be the finale.
“It will be very special,” Shurtz says, before unloading the reason that has everyone, from college coaches to his parents to himself, wondering what could be.
“This will be the last time I’m probably ever going to be running on a track.”
A new body
Shurtz entered high school standing 5-foot-2 and weighing, after a full meal, 100 pounds.
His diminutive frame was engineered perfectly for the longer distances, where speed was not a priority, and Shurtz was a successful 3200 runner, even qualifying for the state meet as a sophomore.
Finally, a growth spurt occurred between his sophomore and junior years, two years delayed compared to most boys. In a 18-month span, Shurtz shot up 10 inches and added 50 pounds.
“Mitchell was a real late bloomer,” said Roger Shurtz, his father. “He’s just now catching up with his body. He’s always had the speed, but it just took a while for his strength to catch up where he can power his legs.”
Shurtz is still adjusting to how much longer his legs are now, which has caused problems with his posture and stride length.
He also gave up club soccer for the first time this spring, allowing him to establish a base from training and be in the best shape of his life for his final season.
“I’m just now starting to feel comfortable,” Mitchell said.
That’s why Shurtz presents such an enticing prospect: a runner with extreme endurance to go along with the kick of a sprinter that is just now learning how to reach his physical peak.
“That’s what my husband and I always talked about,” Janet Shurtz said. “By the time Mitchell got to college, at that point is when he would really realize his full potential.”
We over I
To this day, Mitchell Shurtz considers himself a soccer player first.
He admits he has had more success as a runner, but Shurtz is naturally drawn to the team aspect of soccer.
“High school soccer was like the love of my life,” Shurtz said. “It made me look forward to going to school every day.”
Shurtz doesn’t deny the immense satisfaction of winning a race by himself, but he would argue that winning in soccer, as a team, is that feeling amplified by a thousand.
It’s a reason why he was so eager to join Northwest’s 1600 relay team. Along with Cortez Carr, Alvin Saisi, and Deron Thompson, Shurtz has experienced winning and the camaraderie of being on a team.
“Track always felt like an individual sport to me, so I was excited when I could help out a really competitive relay team,” Shurtz said. “I feel like I’m apart of a team now. I love my team.”
What Shurtz doesn’t love is the anxiety his individual races bring. The stress on race days has worn on him, although he says he is grateful for track because it has been a platform for him to conquer his nerves.
Given the choice, Shurtz would choose pursuing team goals than personal ones every time.
That’s exactly what he did at his regional meet Friday, choosing to run a leg on Northwest’s 3200 relay team to help Joel Roberts and Nick Sharpes, seniors who Shurtz has been friends with since middle school, qualify for the state meet.
“It meant a lot to me because I knew that was probably going to be my only chance of getting to state my senior year,” Sharpes said. “It was going to be close without him, but as soon as he said he was willing to run, then I didn’t have any doubts we would do it.”
The 6A leader in the 800 enters with a season-best time of 1 minute, 56.93 seconds, less than a second off what Shurtz has clocked this season.
He decided to not run the 1600, another event he could have contended in, to focus entirely on winning the 800.
By all measures, his ascent in running is just beginning.
“He’s got a lot of gas in the tank and he’s just now starting to catch up, maturity-wise, with the other runners,” Roger, his father, said.
And that is what makes Mitchell’s plans of attending Kansas State University to major in engineering, effectively ending his running career, a difficult one to accept.
“We’ve always respected the fact that you can’t make your child do something they don’t want to do,” Janet Shurtz said. “I think it’s always going to be in the back of our minds, ‘What could he have done in track?’ I truly believe he has not realized his full potential yet, that’s for sure.”
Mitchell has wondered the same question, of course. He knows leaving it unanswered will nag at him for years.
But he’s counting on that impending sense of finality to summon some type of advantage, even just the slightest, over his competition, all of whom have more races in their future.
A golden ending this weekend could quell the uneasiness of Shurtz’s decision for a lifetime.
“Engineering is such a rigorous major, I just feel like it would be really stressful going to a good track school with a hard major,” Shurtz said. “I know I’m going to miss running, but I just hope not too much. We’ll see if I regret that one.”