By Mac Cerullo
---- — NEWBURYPORT — When Nick Carleo crossed the finish line, he knew there was a chance he may have done it, but it wasn’t until later when he got the official word that he’d become an All-American.
“I was very happy,” Carleo said. “I wasn’t totally sure after the race, so I went back to the warm-up area and stayed there until I was told that I was actually sixth.”
The Newburyport High School junior ran a personal best 4:14.35 to place sixth in the mile at the New Balance National Championship meet. By virtue of his top-six finish, Carleo earned the coveted All-American status, becoming the first athlete in Newburyport High School history to do so.
Carleo did it without a moment to spare, as he beat the seventh- and eighth-place finishers by only 0.31 and 0.33 seconds respectively. Until the end, when he said he had to run so fast that he literally couldn’t think about anything else, he said he’d been keeping track of what place he was in, so he was well aware of the stakes going into the final stretch surrounded by half a dozen other competitors.
In the end, Carleo returned from New York with a shiny new medal, an All-American sweatshirt and a distinction shared by only a select few nationwide. He also holds a title that eluded his father, Tom, who was a standout runner back in the day.
“He didn’t really get fully into running until his senior year of high school,” Carleo said of his father, adding that his best time in high school was something like 4:21. “Then he got to UMass Amherst and slowly got better, and then he transferred to BC and just kept getting better from there.”
Tom Carleo ultimately qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1988, and since then he has established himself in the footwear industry. He now works at New Balance, and given that New Balance is the primary sponsor of the National meet, the family had a lot of friends in New York helping run the meet.
“Everyone was wishing me good luck, even if I don’t know them, because they know me from my dad,” Carleo said. “I’d see them but only for like 10 seconds and then they’d have to go back to work. After the race I got congratulated by most of them. It was fun, it’s always fun to get to know his co-workers.”
During the time he wasn’t running, Carleo explored the city with teammate Tom Graham, who also competed at the meet in the 800-meter race on Friday.
“Our hotel was right down the street from Times Square,” Carleo said. “Me and Tom went four or five times and we went into every store you can go in down there. Obviously the food was great, it was a lot of fun.”
With three of the runners who finished ahead of him graduating, Carleo admitted that he has thought about the possibility that he could win the race next year, though he acknowledged that he’ll have to get a lot better before he’ll have a chance to beat the nation’s best.
“The kid who won [Grant Fisher from Michigan] is very, very good,” Carleo said. “His last 400 meters in that race was 56 something, which is crazy fast, and he’s also won Foot Locker Nationals. So I’d like to think I can, but I’d need to put in a lot more work first.”
That work will begin this spring during the outdoor season, but not until after he’s had a chance to rest. Carleo and Graham have each been given the week off from practice to give them a chance to recover after weeks of training, and Carleo said he could really use the rest.
“I need a week off,” he said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks — I got a lot of hard workouts in.”