Conard’s Gavin Sherry, one of the nation’s best runners, is now looking to reach new limits after an unconventional year of competition

Shawn McFarland, Hartford Courant
·4 min read

By the end of Gavin Sherry’s sophomore season of indoor track, winning felt inevitable. The standout distance runner from Conard, who held the nation’s fastest 3,200 meter run time at the end of the last winter season and was a multiple state champion and Connecticut Gatorade boys cross-country runner of the year, looked undisturbed on the track.

He even told The Courant in February of 2020 that he had yet to be “broken” in competition and that he was still searching for his own limits.

Easy, breezy, dominant.

Then a global pandemic canceled the indoor national championships last March, as well as the outdoor track season. His junior season of cross country was abrupt and without a true postseason. The following indoor track season was practically nonexistent from the standpoint of competitive meets.

When adversity comes knocking, it can come without mercy. Sherry — and many athletes across the country — learned that the hard way in 2020.

“It was really sad,” Sherry said. “I had such good momentum coming through the winter season. That was my best season, and to have it taken away like that was really frustrating.”

And in terms of limits, Sherry found those, too. He ran well in the cross country season, winning every dual meet he ran in, as well as the Northeast Cross Country Club Championship last November with a time of 15:13.70, and he placed second at the East Coast Cross Country Championship in December. He was named Gatorade state boys cross country runner of the year for a second-straight season last week.

But then came the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation USA Meet of Champions in South Carolina at the end of March. Those limits that had yet to rear their ugly heads for the 17-year-old finally arose.

“The race in South Carolina,” Sherry said, with a laugh, “was a very interesting race.”

Sherry entered the 2-mile run with the plan of setting a new personal record. He led for the first seven laps. On the last lap, he slowed considerably. By the end of the race he had fallen to the ground.

“It was a very interesting race experience and a very educating race experience,” Sherry said. “I hadn’t really reached that point where I found that so-called limit, I guess. After that race in South Carolina it’s sort of like, ‘Oh I guess that’s where I am right now. I guess I can’t run much faster than that at the moment.’ It’s humbling, and it makes me feel like I know a lot more about myself now.”

This is still Gavin Sherry, of course. Even with a slow final lap and a stumble across the finish line, he still placed fifth with a personal record of 8:57.67 for the outdoor 2 mile, and set a school record. He won the mile a day later with a time of 4:11.05, also an outdoor personal record.

But it was, finally, a wall. Finally he had been broken by a race.

“I think his mental side is probably stronger than his physical right now,” Conard track coach Ron Knapp said. “You’ve got to want to risk it. ... [Sherry] is willing to risk it. You see a lot of other athletes in state that aren’t willing to risk failure. You’ve got to be able to risk failure. Until you do that, you won’t know what your limit is.”

For the first time since last winter, Sherry has a full season of track and field ahead of him. While the pandemic has disrupted his usual competitive calendar, he’s been able to train with his twin brother Callum, also one of the state’s best runners.

“I always say, I was born with a running partner,” Sherry said. “We’re just stuck together all the time. Sometimes that can be a little annoying, but I’m grateful for it.”

Sherry said he’s built up a good level of base fitness over the past year. Now he’s looking to fine-tune that into peak race form. He hopes to be running 2 miles in the low 8:40s by the end of the season and to cut down on his mile time. He’s begun to think about colleges and is constantly working to keep himself healthy so that he can have a long — ideally professional — career once he graduates.

And now that he knows he has a limit, the next step is to extend it.

“I don’t necessarily feel like I have to prove anything more, I guess,” Sherry said. “It’s more my own personal journey, proving to myself how much further I can push myself. That’s sort of what I’ve always been about. How far can I push it? Moving forward no matter what, no matter what situation we have. I look up to a lot of the greats in high school running, and I’d love to become one of those, obviously.”

Shawn McFarland can be reached at smcfarland@courant.com.