DANVILLE — The future for distance running at Danville Community High School appears very bright. Current Danville freshman Daniel Gerber and upcoming eighth-grader Jackson Swisher are running in San Antonio, Texas, today after earning the rights to compete in their respective age groups in the USATF Junior Olympics Cross Country Nationals.
Both youths advanced to the National Finals on the strength of qualifying runs made at USATF Junior Olympics Region 7 Championships held at the Northview Church Cross Country Course at Carmel in late November.
Gerber was fourth in the boys' 15- to 16-year-old division, completing his 5K distance in 17:36. Meanwhile, Swisher was also fourth in his division, earning that placement in the boys' 13- to 14-year-old class with a 14:18 time across a 4K distance.
Both youths shared they have only lived in the Danville area for about three years, but their paths to reach this level have been significantly different.
Gerber arrived from Ethiopia, a world-recognized country in distance running, as one of three children from the country adopted at the same time into the family of Katherine and Tim Gerber. The Gerbers started Daniel and his new siblings in running as a means to help keep them active after joining their family and discovered Daniel’s innate ability.
“When we first adopted Daniel and his siblings three years ago, he was used to being outside all of the time,” Tim Gerber said. “The weather then was like today where we had snow come in and stay. So we joined a local fitness center to help keep (the kids) active. Daniel went over to the treadmill and just seemed to run and run and run. He kept on getting faster, and we found he has kind of a natural gift.”
Swisher took up running after his parents, Michael and Karen Swisher, moved to Danville. Swisher’s interest started while running for the middle school program under the tutelage of Mark Callaghan.
“Jackson works harder than anyone I have ever known (in running),” Karen said. “He started running on the cross country team for the middle school in sixth grade. He was lucky enough to have a really good coach the first couple of years, and he was hooked. He usually gets up early and is running at 5:30 in the morning before school.”
Swisher could make a big splash at the varsity level in cross country come next fall. He has been unbeaten during his eighth-grade season in middle school races, and has captured a 3,000-meter USATF state championship on the track.
While he has been successful in races, Swisher enjoys training runs most.
“I actually like practices more than races,” he said. “I just love running. With races, there's a certain amount of stress before the race, and I don't really like that. Training is just fun.”
Gerber made himself relevant in his first high school cross country season by advancing through sectional and regional competitions and finishing 67th at the Carmel semi-state this fall. Still, running is not his lone love, as soccer is another interest that he participates.
“In Ethiopia, I used to live in high elevation,” Gerber said. “We used to have a ridge to run before soccer practice. Over here, I did not play as much for the soccer club, but my dad told me I could join the cross country team. I decided to run in middle school, and since then I have done well.”
The two friends have been positive influences and training partners in getting ready for the finals. Equally beneficial to both runners has been their family support.
“For his age, Jackson is a very talented kid,” Gerber said. “Every time he runs with me, he wants to challenge me more. He likes to train hard. So, when we practice, I try to pick up the pace, and he tries to keep up.”
Swisher added, “It's been really fun to have a training partner. Daniel has pushed me a lot in ways harder than I could do by myself. That's been a big help. (In Nationals), I would like to be in the Top 50, but anything above that would be a surprise.”
Likewise, Gerber is keeping Saturday’s event in perspective.
“I just want to go down and do my best,” he said. “It is about the journey and the goal, but the goal is more important.”