POULSBO — It’s one of the most excruciating events in track and field. Many athletes tend to avoid this it at all costs. The 400-meter dash is undoubtedly one of the toughest races in the sport — one lap around the track at an all out sprint.
Those competing must rely on superior physical prowess and perhaps most importantly, mental toughness.
“The last 10 yards is when it usually hurts the most,” said North Kitsap High School senior Zac Simmons. “When you’re finished, your hamstrings are burning. The last 100 meters doesn’t feel too good.”
Even so, Simmons enjoys the unique challenge of the 400M.
“I like the feeling that I am doing something that a lot of other people can’t do,” he said. “My goal by the end of the season is to break 50 seconds in the 400.”
Last year, his best time in the 400M was 53.52. In 2007, he’s shaved it down to 51.88 — something which has impressed track and field coach Kaelea Makaiwi-Barreith.
“Last year, there were a lot of seniors in front of him,” Makaiwi-Barreith said. “This year, he decided he wanted to run on the ‘A’ team. His work ethic was great last year, but it’s even better this year. He’s very focused and has sheer determination. He leads by example.”
Simmons possesses a second gear down the stretch, leaving his fellow competitors in the dust, she explained.
“It looks like he’s out of gas and then he just turns it on,” she said. “He has another burst of speed.”
Simmons began developing that gear when he turned out for the Poulsbo Junior High School track team as a seventh grader in the spring of 2002.
“At the time I was using track to stay in shape for baseball and basketball,” he said. “I was already playing baseball (on Babe Ruth team) so I decided to run track for the school. It was a lot of fun so I decided to keep that up. I grew to love the sport after awhile.”
NKHS assistant coach Bruce Swanson, who’s coached track and field since 1969, enjoys working with Simmons on a regular basis.
“Zac’s a very willing worker,” Swanson said. “He has such a great attitude. He’s exactly the kind of person you want on a team. He will do anything you ask him to do.”
An example of Simmons’ work ethic was on display during a recent practice session.
“I had some of the sprinters run 10 200-meter dashes with three minutes rest in between,” Swanson said. “I told everyone I wanted them to run at least eight. Half of them ran all of the 200s and he’s one of the athletes who did.”
Swanson said sh thinks Simmons’ running style is a major reason why he’s so proficient in the 400M.
“Zac’s form is exceptional,” Swanson said. “He’s a beautiful runner and has an efficient running style. He doesn’t get tight at the end of a race. He stays relaxed the whole time.”
Simmons credits his teammates and coaches for the success he’s experienced during his high school career.
“My teammates and coaches push me to get better every day,” he said. “They have helped me out a lot. We have been working hard in practice.”
In the fall, Simmons will head off to Eastern Washington University to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He’s hoping he will get a chance to continue his stellar running career as well in Cheney.
“I am definitely thinking about running in college,” he said. “I still have to contact the coach (at EWU).”
Makaiwi-Barreith said Simmons has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“I hope he runs in college,” she said. “His times are there to do it.”