If you think cross country is an individual sport, think again.
“In cross country you’re running for yourself, but you’re also running for your team,” said senior Laguna Creek cross-country runner, Jay Chew.
Chew is the captain and No. 1 runner on a Cardinal squad with a goal of winning the Metro League.
For Chew, running is about his connection to the team and the bond they share.
“We get along really well. It’s great, it’s kind of an extension of our families and my family as well. The bond that we have is something special.”
It’s not just the team, however.
Cross country is also a personal journey for Chew, who started long-distance running in seventh grade.
“I didn’t really know anything about it at all when I started.”
However, Chew’s mom pushed him and encouraged him to pursue the sport.
“It was my mom really. It was me wanting to do a sport, and my mom was like ‘You’re better at running the long distance vs. the short,’ and I’m like ‘but I don’t want to run that far,’ and she said ‘but you’re better at it,’, and I’m like ‘OK, fine, I guess,’ and now I’ve just grown to love it ever since.”
His love of running continued in high school.
At Laguna Creek he met the other big influence on his running career, coach Bryan Jilka.
Chew found what he needed, support from his coach.
“I definitely think my coach has been a huge part of my journey. Ever since my freshman year, my coach has always been there. We’ve always had a special connection.”
That connection started before his first race freshman year.
“I just kind of came on and started running and, before the first league meet my freshman year, the coach approached me and asked if I wanted to run varsity.
“Ever since then, he’s really been close with me. We’ve always been back and forth communicating with me,” Chew said.
Jilka is impressed with Chew’s work ethic and commitment.
“He’s worked hard enough to be there; he’s developed beautifully,” Jilka said. “He has the ability to be one of the top runners in the area, at least in the Elk Grove area.”
Though the season is early, Jilka says Chew has already shown he may be ready to move up to the next level.
In an intra-squad meet to open the season, Chew covered a three-mile flat course in 16:16, almost 40 seconds better than his best time at the end of last season. Jilka says it was the 16th best three-mile time in the state at the time.
“It was really impressive,” Jilka said, adding that Chew did not benefit from being pushed by other elite runners.
Jilka and Chew both believe he can break 16 minutes in a three-mile race.
In addition to improving his three-mile time, Chew has other goals.
“This season there is definitely big goals; running under 16 minutes for three miles is a No. 1 goal. The big goal this year is to make it to state as a team or individually. Another big goal is to win our league championship.”
To accomplish those goals, Chew relies on keeping his mind strong. “Finding out and exploring the mental aspect of running has really been interesting. I’ve really found it to be quite important.”
It’s not just being in top physical shape.
“From what I’ve found, running long distances is probably 95 percent in your head and the other five percent is physical. With a strong mind, you can do almost anything you want. There are no limits as long as you tell yourself there are no limits.”
His mental game extends to school.
Chew has managed to maintain his grades.
His college GPA is 4.43 and he has his eyes set on going to college in Oregon.
“I hope to run in college for sure. I’m kind of reaching out to schools right now and trying to see if that is on the table. Even if I end up running in college or not, I definitely want to keep running as long as I can.”
With practices six days a week and putting in 55-60 miles, Chew has learned how to balance his life.
“Always it’s school first, run second. That’s always how it’s always been from the start. I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed my time and gotten school done and dedicate 100 percent of myself to practice and the sport.”
Despite the difficulty of balancing school and cross country, perhaps the most difficult task for Chew was overcoming what he called “the longest season” ever imposed on him and his teammates by COVID restrictions.
“My junior season with COVID and everything. That was quite hard being the longest season on record. That season was hard because we didn’t have any of the big races that we normally had, we pretty much just had dual races. That was hard for not only me, but it was also just difficult for the whole team, the motivation was pretty low.”
Nevertheless, the boys’ team has emerged from the depths of the pandemic stronger and poised to topple McClatchy from its Metro League throne.
“McClatchy has always won since I’ve been here. The goal this year is to flip it around and make it Laguna No. 1 and McClatchy No. 2.”
And he looks forward to doing it as a team.