That Eastern Oregon runner Nic Maszk finished high enough at the men’s NAIA National Cross Country Championships to be named an all-American for the second straight year is a remarkable feat.
It’s even more so when considering the graduate student did so juggling a much more rigorous schedule this fall as a student-teacher at La Grande High School.
“That’s a busy young man,” said EOU’s head cross country and track coach Ben Welch. “He’s student teaching from 7:30 until almost 3:30 and then hustling to practice. To handle that and come back and run that well is actually impressive.”
Maszk took 11th at the national championship meet last weekend, just ahead of his 12th-place finish from a year ago but well within range to qualify as an all-American.
The schedule change from being a student to a student-teacher was one that, early on, caused him some uncertainty in how it could affect his running.
“I didn’t get to do the preseason practices. We have practice before school starts in the preseason,” Maszk said. “I wasn’t able to get to run with the team the entire time. I would just be doing the afternoon practices. It was a lot more solo work. You really need the whole team there to get better.”
He even missed afternoon practices during the first two weeks of training, noting the rest of the team would often take off on its run before he could get out of class.
“It was a huge change, for sure,” he said. “I got a handle on (the schedule) probably halfway through the season. It was way more stressful.”
Adjusting his schedule, however, pales in comparison to a chaotic six month-span when he was in middle school in La Grande. The turbulence started with a heart issue that threatened his hopes of running back in the spring of 2009.
“I couldn’t compete my eighth grade or most of my freshman year. I was medically restricted,” he said. “I have a (growth) in my aortic valve. I had too much pressure building up.”
The abnormality, which he said caused him to pass out several times a day and at times resulted in him bleeding from his nose or mouth, led to him being hospitalized several times. At one point, Maszk was bedridden and disallowed from competing in cross country as a freshman.
“I wasn’t even allowed to walk for two weeks,” he said.
Not long after in July 2009, Maszk lost his mother, Tami Maszk, to cirrhosis of the liver.
“She was the only person I really grew up with. She was pretty much the main person in my life,” Maszk said of his mom.
He moved to Baker City with his grandparents ahead of his freshman year of high school.
“It was hard, but the nice thing is my grandparents were there for me,” he said.
He slowly began to work his way back and competed for the Bulldogs in the spring of his freshman year.
“My heart would flutter (but) for the most part I could run,” he said. “I did things kind of light.”
He was so desperate to get back into running that he even hid a broken arm from his track coach.
“I was actually supposed to skip that track season,” he said. “I lied to my coach and told her I was fine. I was so tired of not running.”
Maszk said the valve growth is no longer an issue, and that all it causes for him now is an irregularly low heartbeat.
“My resting is 32 (beats per minute), usually. It was low in eighth grade. The growth is not blocking the blood the way it used to,” he said. “It’s kind of an advantage now when I run. Where it should be 160, it’s down to about 100.
“When I’m running races that are longer I don’t feel like my heart is beating out of my chest.”
He went on to dominate during his last three seasons in high school cross country, winning 14 5K races, including the Greater Oregon League championship three years in a row. He placed as high as sixth in the state as a junior.
In college at EOU, he joined a team that, when he was a freshman, featured standouts such as Isaac and Lucas Updike, Kody Shriver and Hans Roelle. That fall he received a piece of advice from Isaac Updike that resonated with him — stay healthy.
“That just stuck with me. If you can do four years not interrupted (by injury) you’re going to beat people way more talented than you,” he said.
Maszk has not only stayed healthy, but went on to achieve more at EOU than he thought possible when he first arrived.
“If you compare it to what I had goal wise, it’s light years better,” he said. “I think I turned out a million times better than I thought it was.”
Welch called what Maszk has brought to the program in recent years in terms of “intelligence,” “stability” and “consistency” an invaluable asset.
“You can’t teach that. You can mentor it, you can hone it and stuff, but that’s an innate thing,” Welch said. “He’s come a long, long way since high school. Those abilities were always there. He was fortunate he had some excellent older teammates that helped bring those things out of him.”
Maszk has future hopes of training for marathons and to scale one of the seven summits, but first he wants to attain an all-American accolade in outdoor track in the spring.
“It’s the only season I don’t have that in,” he said.