The award ceremony for yesterday’s San Diego Super Run 10Km was about to start in South Shores Park (just east of Sea World), but the men’s winner couldn’t wait any longer. As his fellow finishers came up to congratulate him, or waited in line for post-race snacks, Lukas Verzbicas was anxious to get on with the 20 km cycling time trial around nearby Fiesta Island, even as a swim session loomed later up in La Jolla. Awards would have to wait.
A thoroughly calculating young man, Lukas has his priorities as he ramps up for his first full season of top competition since his terrible cycling accident in Colorado Springs in July 2012. Perhaps his choice of triathlon as a profession might suggest such a trait, but it seems like a personal tendency just the same.
“Yes, he likes everything just so,” agreed Cathy Holl, who met Lukas serving as the ITU Pro Homestay coordinator for San Diego last year, and has since, with husband Steve, become something of a surrogate parent for the young man who grew up in Lithuania before emigrating to Orland Park, Illinois outside Chicago at age 9. “He’s like a Maserati, finely tuned, but very sweet.”
It was hard to miss the former sub-4:00 high school miler and 2011 ITU World Junior Triathlon champion at this morning’s annual Super Bowl weekend road race. Strikingly sleek, with the endless legs of a thoroughbred, Lukas was making his 2014 racing debut at this decades-old local standby out to Crown Point and back along the bay.
“This was just something to do,” Lukas told me after his 32:05 win. “Joaquim (Cruz) wanted me to do a tempo run, and this was a race he always used to have (two-time 800m Olympian) Alice Schmidt run when she lived here.”
Lukas has been living in the San Diego area since last spring, and through the year competing mostly at small local events as he returned to full strength. He had a visit from his family two weeks ago, as his mom Raza along with younger brother Noah and his grandmother from Lithuania came in for five days for a touch of home. Now it’s back to the serious business of training and competing.
“I’m leaving for Arizona this week for the USAT (USA Triathlon) training camp for the national team,” he said, outlining his coming schedule. “Just one week there, then I’ll return for the Endurance Live Awards. I have a race March 1st in Cleremont, Florida, the Sprint Pan Am Cup (750m swim; 20 km bike; 5 km run). I’ve done it before; going for the win there. I like the Olympic distance better (1,500m swim; 40 km bike; 10 km run), but this is just to break the ice.”
BACK IN THE SADDLE
It was nice to speak with the 21 year-old (his birthday was January 6th) without the first question being about the serious cycling accident that left him hospitalized for five weeks and partially paralyzed. It has taken more than a year and a half for Lukas to overcome that setback, but he seems ready to assume his spot at or near the top of his profession.
“I’m pretty much healthy now, not thinking about it anymore,” he maintained. “My main goal this season is to compete for a podium position at the ITU World Triathlon Series race in Chicago June 29th. Go up against the Olympic gold medalist, and the best in the world. I’m in a hard training block now. Training has been going very good.”
Lukas didn’t have any competition in today’s race; second place finished some 2:41 behind. But he’s excited to reengage with his peers. Those ranks grew last week with the intriguing announcement that Alan Webb, another of the Fab 5 high school boys to go sub-4:00 in the mile — and indeed the American record holder in the mile — was retiring from track to enter the world of triathlon at age 31.
“He came down here last October, and we trained together a little,” Lukas said. “He had a swimming background in high school. He’s been hurt a lot (in running). Swimming is the main thing he has to improve upon. It’s so much form rather than just effort. Effort can translate to the bike, but running off the bike is different than just running, too. So he can’t expect to come into triathlon and compete right away at the highest level. It will take a little time.”
If Alan should ever need advice about patience, he’ll have find no better mentor than Lukas V.
Oh, he’s rooting for the Broncos in the Super Bowl.