By Jim Sullivan
---- — NEWBURYPORT — He runs under pressure and he’d have it no other way.
With his team winning the CAL title for the third year out of the past four, Newburyport boys indoor track captain Sawyer Updike was also named the fastest 1,000 meter runner in the Cape Ann League. The senior also joined Joe Santo, James Nutter and Nick Carleo in the winning 4x800 relay team.
But running wasn’t originally a natural fit for Updike.
“I used to be a very chubby child,” said Updike. “And my mom would make us run around the block. About 300 yards down, I couldn’t finish around the block. But gradually, I was able to run around the block. It became easy, and I also grew, so that helped shave off some of the weight.”
Currently at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Updike stands out on the track quite literally.
“When he runs the 1,000, you see a lot of small guys. So he stands out,” said coach Tim Foley. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The grandson of the late author John Updike, Sawyer started running track in the seventh grade. Updike saw himself as more of a sprinter at the time, but life has a way of changing everyone’s plans.
“I was pulled over to the distance coach one day,” said Updike. “I was told to run along with him. So I did, and then in my races, they could see I was winning and that I was pretty fast.”
The next thing Updike knew, he was a distance man. And although distance requires endurance, Updike can still satisfy the sprinter in himself.
“I have to work on my endurance, but I think my speed is all there,” he said. “I’m not really a long distance person; I’m more of a middle-distance person.”
Running the relay gives Updike a chance to run with like-minded souls.
“The (other) three guys are like me, they are middle-distance guys,” Updike said of his relay teammates. “They can do the long distance, but they’re better at the 600 and the mile.”
Being the lone captain on the indoor team can bring its own different type of pressure, but Updike seems to be built for it.
“I remember yesterday, all through school I was worried about my race and had a lot of pressure,” Updike said of the time before the CALs. “But after (the race), I felt a lot of the pressure lifted from my shoulders.”
“He’s just a quiet leader, and that’s just his job,” Foley said of his captain. “He doesn’t say an awful lot, but he leads by example. He’s like a rock, he’s solid. The other kids all gravitate to that.”
Updike will be making the trip back to the Reggie Lewis Center next Friday for the Division 4 state finals. After that will come his final outdoor track season in the spring, and Updike is looking at attending Humboldt State in California or the University of Maine, where he hopes to run as well.
“I believe it’s made me more tough,” Updike said of his track experience. “It’s given me a better understanding of what you need to put into things. It’s kind of an enjoyable sport. You don’t have to memorize a lot of drills. You just run in a line, and you can’t really mess that up that much.”