Runner proves hard work beats talent

Hadley Smith, staff writer

During his first race of the track and field season, senior Christian Groendyk set a school record in the boys two-mile. The holder of the previous record? Also Groendyk, set last track season.

Most runners can only dream of the success Groendyk has had in the past year. With a rare mix of grit, devotion, and opportunity, he has fought his way to the front of the running pack.

“I wouldn’t say I have talent,” Groendyk said. “I didn’t show up and wasn’t just great freshman year. I kind of sucked freshman year and even sophomore year and junior year was kind of OK, but that’s about it.”

Groendyk has been running for over six years, since he was in middle school. 

“I got kind of bored with soccer and realized I wasn’t great at the aggressiveness of it and the actual part where you play soccer, but I could run up and down the field a lot,” he explained. “So, I figured running was kind of my thing. One thing led to another and I joined the cross country team in sixth grade.”

Since then, Groendyk has gone on to compete nationally. In September of 2022, he took first in the boys individual race at the Desert Twilight Festival, one of the nation’s largest cross country races. He also won the 2022 state title, an award that many runners dream of but few are able to actually achieve. 

According to him, the key to his success is not genetics. Instead, he attributes his success to dedication, hard work, and a little bit of luck.

“I think in general working hard will usually beat talent. A lot of times talented people end up not performing as well,” Groendyk explained. “Even if your floor of how good you are is a lot higher, if you can’t work, then eventually people are going to surpass you. 

“At a certain point, humans can only go so fast,” he added. “So hopefully, I’m one of the few that can run a little bit faster than everyone else. But it’s kind of a trade off. You have to have a mix of both, but you also don’t have to be talented every time.” 

This outlook on running has served Groendyk well. Last cross country season he won the class 5A state championship with a time of 15:13.5, beating runners from all over Colorado. 

“That’s something that I dreamed of for a really long time,” he said. “It took a really long time to put myself in a position where I thought I could actually win a state title. But that was really, really gratifying to finally win that, like, holy crap, this is real.” 

Beyond Colorado, Groendyk has raced all over the U.S. and around the world. In the fall of 2022 he went to Thailand to represent the U.S. in the World Mountain Running Championships as part of the under 20 team. He won 25th place overall and finished 2nd out of the American team. 


That is not to say it has been all wins for Groendyk. Shortly after returning from Thailand, he flew to Chicago for a national qualifying race, which turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of his running career.

“I had to drop out at two miles,” he said. “I didn’t even finish the race—horrible calf cramps, my body was just wrecked—I just felt horrible. And that sucked, because that was supposed to be a national qualifying race.”

The top ten finishers qualified for nationals in San Diego, making this an important race for Groendyk. Being a senior, it was his last chance at the glory of a High School Nationals win, which would set him up for a successful running career. 

“I easily should have been able to be in that top 10,” he said. “And my body just gave up on me, and I couldn’t even stay in the top 20. And then I chose to drop out because I felt so terrible. So that was probably just the worst experience of my life. 

“I mean, I was literally like sobbing after that race, like, what have I done, this is terrible,” he added. “I mean, flying all the way out to Chicago to go do this race and then not even be able to finish all three miles of it sucked.

For some athletes, a loss as disappointing as Groendyk’s would have set them back significantly. Groendyk handled the loss by looking back at the success he has had throughout the season, including securing a running scholarship at Princeton University, which will allow him to continue running competitively in College. 

Groendyk will still have plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself.

Though the stakes will be raised in college, Groendyk tries not to put too much emphasis on any specific competition.

“At the end of the day, every race is just another race,” he said. “At this point I’ve raced close to 100 times probably. Every time you get to the starting line, it’s scary and you want to try and win, obviously, but it’s OK if you don’t. I try to take the stress off of like, what if I fail, because that doesn’t matter. I’d much rather focus on trying to win.”

It is this mindset that makes Groendyk such a formidable runner. His positive outlook and passion for running allows him to beat the competition again and again. For Groendyk, running is about so much more than winning races. Running gives him purpose and motivates him to do well in other parts of his life. 

Groendyk is what happens when someone takes a hobby and turns it into something more, and the success he’s had would not be possible if he didn’t love the sport. 

“There’s days where I wake up and I can’t wait to run, which is really nerdy. But it’s true. There’s days where it’s like, I want to go run, and I enjoy working out and doing long runs and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m at a point where I can enjoy myself and I’m really happy with where I’m at.”