Inner drive lacking in today’s youth – set Gemar apart
It was 10 years ago this week that Lukas Gemar became the first sophomore in 30 years to win the class AA state cross country individual title in Minnesota. He also became the first male in Moorhead High School history to win – up to the point, only one other person had even finished in the top 10. I remember the chills I felt as I stood crammed between anxious fans crowded in the back row of bleachers on top of the hill at St. Olaf College when I saw my best friend since 2nd grade scream down the final slope coming out of the woods, all alone, about to accomplish something we had fantasized about in the same manner of likelihood most kids dream of becoming the President of the United States. The desire for improvement rooted in a child-like joy over all of his passions, the obsessive, continuous internal drive, and a unique ownership over his passions all are what made Lukas Gemar able to go out and “take it,” as Herb Brooks told his hockey team before they faced the Soviets. This memoir might seem to go into unnecessary depth on certain things, but I see them as critical components of a backstory, laying the foundation for how and why he had these gifts, but few young people do today.
I’d like to say that I actually am partially responsible for Lukas Gemar’s running success, as bold as that may sound. Lukas and I met as 2nd and 3rd graders (I’m one year ahead in school and as you will see by the next sentences, about 100 points behind in I.Q). One of my early memories of Lukas was when we shared the science texts we had been working out of each day. His brother Adam, a 4th grader, and my two brothers, a Dan (my twin) and Tom (6th) were all in our 2nd year of being homeschooled. I was pretty proud to be doing something with a lot more text than pictures – it was a 7th grade earth science book – he was reading out of an 11th grade Physics book. for science. Both innately studious, we found about as much thrill from pouring over text and jotting down notes as today’s generation does from starting a new round of Fortnite. Homeschooling enabled us to “play” college, something we have held onto today as we still pursue further avenues of education. Taking notes in a lecture hall, which is what we did every Monday night as members of Bible Study Fellowship, was another place where our friendship was built and this piece of Lukas was cultivated.
We would gather together in a small group, listen intently to our teacher’s hour long lecture (I giggle thinking how they must need to modify this for the current generation), filling our notebooks with key ideas before transferring only the most salient points into the margins of our Bibles. At the end of the evening, while we waited for our dads from the upstairs adult session, Lukas, Adam, and I usually refrained from deeper spiritual fellowship, opting instead to dissect the previous day’s football games, where Adam displayed a typical dogmatic belief in Brett Favre as I attempted to defend the doctrine of my aerial attack apologetic of Randy Moss and the wobegon Minnesota Vikings franchise. We were still kids afterall – however even those discussions would have been worthy of a Colin Cowherd segment.
The five of us boys also got together on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Olson Forum at Concordia College for “gym.” This consisted of playing tons of games: pickleball, basketball, football, ultimate Frisbee, and volleyball. We even found excitement creating our own relays and conducting miniature track meets – our mothers always hopped in. If it was anything over 800 meters, we had to watch out, because my mom, a former Dragon runner and current coach at what was then Moorhead Junior High School, was still able to do 5:20 mile repeats – only when Lukas showed up on the roster four years later would she be slower than one of her own athletes. Garrick Larson, head coach of the Cobber track and field and cross country programs, probably had no idea at the time that two of these kids playing track in his front lawn would put the name Sederquist on his roster from 2007 – 2015, as Tom and I both ran there.
In the fall, Saturdays and sometimes Sunday’s as well were reserved for huge games of touch football. The Gemars, plus cousins and other friends from school and sports, congregated in the country on our spray painted field we named the Sederdome. Inspired (or at least motivated by some type of emotional fuel) by whatever had happened in the day’s Viking’s games, we’d play from the final knee of that game until it was either too dark to see or until we collapsed from fatigue, thirst, and hunger. These three or four hour matches were some of the most cherished memories I remember from being a kid. Whenever I would run a fade to the corner of the endzone, I was number eighty-four. Whenever I was in the open field after scrambling from a blitz (don’t forget to count to “five-American” first), I was Michael Vick. Given the task of shutting down my older brother, I took on the character of Deion Sanders. OOOoooo! I get competitive juices flowing up just thinking about it.
This was where our friendship was forged – playing. This is what kids don’t do nowadays. Why? First, they don’t know how. My dad spent an hour one day teaching us how to play football. We boys loved it so much, and he would come home and play outside with us after work…whenever we wanted him too. This was after my mom had played with us, too (and she had to teach us, exercise us, and cook for us!). Second, they want instant gratification. Why work so hard to imagine all of these things, play all of these games, etc., when I can just start my own Madden franchise and have all of the stats, announcing, games – imagination – done for me? (Trust me, when we were given a PS2 – “devilbox” as my parents called it – I noticed a drastic reduction of the “kid” in me as I was led into this very temptation).
How does this relate to Lukas’s ascension to eventual state champion? Because every sport, at its origin, is a form of play. That youthful, childlike joy is at the heart of every Pete Maravich venture onto the concrete in the night to put up some hoops and every boy and girl who visualizes themselves handling the rock in the final 10 seconds of a game 7. It was why I pretended to be Moss, Vick, and Sanders. The first order of business required for an individual to achieve success through intense internal dedication is secure development of their innate sense of “play” attached to their pursuit. And it does not just apply to sports. The reason we enjoy doing our jobs can be traced back to how they are a form of “play” for us. Every great mother cared for a doll or stuffed animal family when they were little girls. Every great city planner probably had a matchbox car city with skyways, interstates, and residential developments in their basement (if you know Lukas and I well, you probably wander why, based off of that, we didn’t go into city planning!). Story tellers wrote books and made homemade movies, future farmers played in the dirt and drove around toy tractors, future doctors healed their little brothers. Teacher’s played school – I once gave a lecture to an audience of stuffed dogs and whales – the only people who are still, to this day, able to sit through an entire lecture of mine. I also remember an evening where I stayed up (against my parents’ orders) sitting in front of a T.V., calling a Sunday Night Football game into a tape recorder with a microphone taped to a box that read “NFL ON NBC” (microphone was not in any way receiving audio….it was there purely for aesthetics.). I had player stats and inside scoops handwritten on notecards and everything. The best part is the last portion of the call: “Well Bob (imaginary color guy), it just isn’t McNair’s night, he ca – (interrupted by mother’s voice in the background) – ‘RYAN what are you doing up right now!?” If you are wondering if your own kids will develop an extensive imagination like that, observe yourself next time you are out to eat. If you hand your kid a tablet at Olive Garden when you are waiting for your food, the answer is: not a chance.
Lukas developed this sense of play with running no doubt. Maybe I played a role as we dreamed of academia sitting and taking notes in BSF or dreamed of future careers in the NFL during those touch football games – I don’t know. I know we spent some nights up in the tree house in the backyard just telling jokes, being friends, and making each other laugh. Obviously, that is part of being a kid, too. In fact, one of our most legendary memories came at Lukas’s expense when he laughed so hard from one of Adam’s jokes at a sleepover that he actually pooped in his pants. He was in, oh, 6th grade probably. Classic. Sorry Lukas.
An event more directly related to his running career was his attendance at the elementary school “All City Track Meet,” which to Lukas and I (and we incorrectly assumed to everyone else as well), was the Fargo-Moorhead equivalent to the Games of the 28th Olympiad, the Boston Marathon, and the Presidential Inauguration. In reality, it was not much more than a completion of the Presidential fitness challenge – but by golly, we got so worked up for those things, at least I did.
The 2004 edition came during my 6th grade year. The previous year, I had trained (yes…I literally wrote myself some workouts and carried them out on my gravel road!) a little, not enough, even by my own admission, and placed third in the mile run. The defeat stung a little, and I wanted more. So, the 6th grade year, I trained harder. I won’t go into specifics, but I remember in a parochial meet the week before the big “ALL CITY” championships, I ran an 800 meters in 3:00. I was feeling pretty good about that. I had won by a comfortable margin, and I had my eyes set on breaking my P.R. of 6:23. Lukas, meanwhile, had gone from the prodigy athletic friend I had known for two years and put on a little bit of baby fat, for whatever reason. It was probably just a period before his growth spurt, but he wasn’t his normal, super athletic self, as I recall.
He was in the stands that day that I ran to victory – probably one of my greatest athletic achievements to this day, or at least one that I’m still proud of because I set a goal, worked for it, and actually went out and “took it” – a public school record of 5:47. I had run 2:47 for my second 800, a time that embarrassed my open 800 from a week ago (this fact is only pleasing to the running nerd inside of me, and I still laugh about it when I remember that race). I had won in an emotional final 200 meters, whereby I outsprinted a kid, then got passed, then went into lane three on the final turn and churned my long slow legs in what I know was one of only two effective final sprints I’ve ever had, even to this day, in my running career. The other came when I was a senior in high school and outkicked an 8th grader for the last spot on the section team. He was just a boy and I was a man, so it wasn’t really fair. However, he ended up running a 3:45 1500 meters in college, so if we use the transitive property….I digress.
I remember coming up to the stands and changing into my sweats, euphoric feelings rushing through my body. I looked at Lukas and he just sort of blankly looked back and said something along the lines of “good job Ryan – great race.” I could tell by his face and his words what he really felt in his heart: “That was really cool to see you win this – I’m going to do this someday, too.”
After that meet, Lukas started running, and he never stopped. He ran for 2 weeks, everyday – didn’t take a day off. He would see me at church and tell me his streak was at 14 days. That grew to 30, then 70. I can’t remember how big it became, but by the time he ended the streak, he had leaned out, was wearing real running shorts, and was looking like a formidable opponent. Meanwhile, I was in 7th grade – on the “real” team at the middle school. Lukas, a 6th grader, wasn’t allowed to compete, but he was secretly running with us at practice anyway. We had both gone back to public school that year – funny story: he was told that he wasn’t smart enough to skip 6th grade. A kid who eventually would score a 5 on 15 A.P. tests, of which three or four he just simply signed up a couple of weeks before the test and taught himself the material. He would score a 35 on his ACT on his way to Harvard. This is the kid who taught himself Physics in 2nd grade and in 3rd grade gave a lecture on the principles of aerodynamics (complete with old fashioned, stand up projector slides) at a homeschool gathering (I did a report on Florida, another girl did a demonstration on how to bake cupcakes). Not smart enough – come up with a better excuse than that!
Anyway, I remember vividly enjoying having Lukas run with us, but I still assumed I was superior to him. I had my eyes focused on an 8th grader who seemed untouchable. He was running the two mile around 11:00, and I was in the 11:45 range. One day, after practice, my mom mentioned, and I remember this like it was yesterday, how she thought that Lukas specifically, had a really incredible gift, and that she thought he could be a state champion one day. I was shocked. “Lukas?!? Nooooo…..I mean I love him, but Lukas? The kid that pooped in his pants at our sleepover last weekend? You gotta be kidding…it’s Lukas!!!” She was convinced. The next day, her point was validated.
The workout was “rabbit chasers.” We were sent out in groups of two or three in 15-30 second intervals. The fastest athletes started last and would attempt to catch everyone by the end of the 2 mile stretch of road. It was my mom’s way of getting us to do an extended tempo type effort (once again – the nature of “play” being incorporated into the one sport that no kid grows up “playing.”) Lukas was held back with the final group, which was myself and the 8th grader I spoke of, plus another athlete who had been between the two of us. We were together for all of maybe a minute. Then, the 8th grader took off. Lukas went with him.
I remember watching and being completely unable to respond. Lukas looked like he wasn’t even working. He looked like you feel when you are in a dream and instead of being dragged down and melted into a road when you are running from monsters, you actually, for once, are flying. You look around like, “this can’t be!” and are mesmerized by your powers. That was Lukas – he was discovering his powers. He ran off and away and as far as I’m concerned, never looked back. He entered into our last race of the year and almost beat the 8th grader. The next year he rewrote the middle school record books, and in 8th grade, he was racing with the high school, somehow churning out a 4:41 mile in the process. It was incredible to watch this little kid – he wasn’t one of those middle school boys who had just ‘grown early,’ and was benefiting from that. He was actually, like my mom had prophesied two years before, special. This was his gift.
As I grew in knowledge of the sport, it made sense. His dad, Jim, had run a very fast marathon back in his day – something around 2:16 I think. He had the genes.
Entering my freshmen year, I also vividly recall talking up Lukas to the upperclassmen on the team. Understandably, they did not appreciate that…I was just so proud of my friend. We didn’t pull junior high runners up, save for extreme circumstance. I claimed he’d be in our top 5 if he were here. They laughed. At the end of the year, he did get pulled up to run at sections – I think he was at least top 7. Two years later he was on top of the entire state. He vindicated my claims, that is for sure, and he produced the most difficult, iconic, unexpected, and historic individual feat, albeit completely underappreciated, in the history of our school’s athletic and maybe academic and art’s department, ever. In terms of running, I would put it in the top 5 in terms of all Fargo-Moorhead high school AND colleges’ individual moments. Sorry, winning a North Dakota State title is not the same (let the hate-mail flow). Roesler was a special athlete – once in a lifetime for sure – and she is right up there. But Lukas winning the state cross country race, the crown jewel of distance races for every kid in Minnesota, in 2008 as a sophomore, a year after being outside of the top 50 and a week after getting 3rd in his own SECTION qualifying race (and second on his own TEAM!) is the equivalent of the Vikings realizing that their waterboy is a pretty decent kicker at practice one week and two months later he kicks the Super Bowl game winner. It was…awesome. And I know I’m biased, but it was incredible.
I stood at the two mile mark as all of the high school runners, sustaining a pace that seemed like an all out sprint to my eyes, cruised by me effortlessly. I remember Jakob Lindaas, our number one from a week ago, moving into the lead. I couldn’t believe it. The Moorhead “M”, leading the big race. I’d been attending this race since I was a little boy and all that ever happened was some kid from a cities school dominating while the Moorhead orange was lost in a sea of irrelevancy. Wow….here was Jakob. Could he do it? No way. The Wilmar guys were right there – they had embarrassed our runners earlier in the year. Paradis, an eventual Gopher, and the winner of the section invite in a blazing time of 15:28, was there and primed to get what he really deserved after a 4-year career of dominating the central region of the state. I don’t even remember seeing Lukas, but he was right there, too, in the chase group.
I made my way to the stands, bulling through people like you have to in order to get a good vantage point. I stood and waited. Many other occasions had placed me in this exact spot as I waited in anticipation for the first runner to crest the final hill. It was always awe-inspiring to see the look of the champion in his combination of ecstasy and pain. Lukas, Adam, and my two brothers had taken a trip just two years prior to watch the race in what would be one of our last “state trips” that we took as young farm kids who are there to “go to the big city,” eat skittles, stay in a hotel, and do a fantasy football style draft of our hero runners in the next day’s race. Here we were, two years later, and Lukas was rewriting a fantasy story of his own.
He sprinted down the last hill, running with what he would eventually describe as “fear.” He looked like it. Like he had found a hidden treasure and taken 1 million dollars’ worth, unable to comprehend his luck, and was sprinting to bring it home and show someone. It took a while for the next person, Mo Ahmed of Willmar, to follow, which is when I realized it was actually going to happen. Lukas didn’t just win the race – he demoralized the field. Usually, that final crest is a fight between at least two, if not three people. Not this time. The blonde kid with the blender hair style who could solve a Rubik’s cube in under 25-seconds was about to be the state champion. What a day.
Ever since then, from a running standpoint, Lukas faced hardship. The next two years, he was utterly dominant, winning by landslides over good local competition, but he never showed up on the biggest stage to replicate what he did that day. He claimed two more section championships, which he won in dominating fashion, a feat which would have earned considerable praise in a climate often starved of individual victories. Our teams were often winning the team title, but to have an individual champion was still always a big deal.
He helped shepherd Glen Ellingson during his final year, training all winter before abruptly deciding to forgo his senior year of track. Glen, then a junior, would go on to win the state title in the 3200 meters in a blazing school record time of 9:16 – a story so shocking it will get its own article in a few years. How incredible to think that Lukas had made Glen look like a mere mortal during the cross country season, sometimes putting gaps of up to 30-45 seconds on him – often in races where they finished 1-2. Glen blossomed into a Divison II All-American, eventually running an 8:07 for 3,000 meters – his career is probably the finest of all of the Moorhead Spud runners – and yet even his current 3200 meter record seems like it should belong to Lukas, who almost duplicated that effort in a solo time trial during the first week of cross country practice in August, when no one has any speed work under their belts at all. That is sports, though – Glen went out and did it – all the credit to his efforts.
So, while Lukas admittedly didn’t go on to any appearances at Hayward Field, he did finish out his high school career as both incredibly proficient and also mysteriously absent.
He went to Harvard, had a year where he didn’t run. He studied many different subjects – at one point focusing on learning Arabic to help him as a missionary, then changing to a math focus, then English, before settling more in the area of computer science. He ended up pretty much learning everything – attacking whatever he was doing with a relentless passion, like he always did. That is what sets him apart.
I still consider Lukas my best friend. We don’t talk nearly as often as we should, but I could still tell him anything. The morning of my wedding, we got up at 5 in the morning and went on a 10 mile run. I was in the middle of my standard 110 mile weeks (let’s just say the tables turned again…..I went to college and focused on running. My junior year, when I ran 15:31 for an indoor 5k, I called Lukas and told him that we finally had the same P.R. again – he ran 15:31 on a tough St. Olaf course as a 16 year old, and mine was in a controlled environment on a flat track, but the clock don’t care.) and Lukas, well, let’s just say when you are Lukas Gemar, you can take any amount of time off and still do 10 miles at about 6:30 pace. As hard of a worker as Lukas is, there is no denying his degree of talent.
I joked on the run about how I had inspired him that day when he was watching me run an elementary school mile – how I had been responsible for motivating him to his state title. Then I joked how his run had re-inspired me somehow. Finally, we both agreed that while his state title was his best sports accomplishment, my marriage to Christie would finally represent me moving on to a bigger lifetime accomplishment than that 6th grade mile run.
I’ve since taught elementary music, had a respectable collegiate distance running career, though, like Lukas, I was hurt during the time when I should have been at my top, coached kids in middle school, high school, and now as a Division I Nordic ski coach. One thing that I don’t see in kids anymore is the inner drive that Lukas and I had. The ability to teach yourself something. The ability to will yourself to do something. Sure, there are kids who, from a very young age – too young – are put into much more stressful competitive environments than Lukas and I were. While they were in some Junior AAA Peewee Herman Youth Hockey championship of the world, we were skating in our driveway playing pickup hockey and shooting at a blanket we hung on the garage door. While some 8 year old kids were sweating in a gym at their 100th traveling tournament of the summer, we were inventing trampball and playing it into the wee hours of the night, bouncing and shooting and announcing all the while of course (NBA on NBC this time).
Here is why the first group doesn’t learn inner drive, but Lukas and I did. The first group was brought to an organized activity, dropped off, and coached by people – good people who mean well and want to help. Lukas and I learned how to play, and when we were old enough, we were told that if we really wanted something and were willing to work for it, nothing could stop us from becoming all that we were capable of being. So when the AAA tournament season was over, and when summer league finished, that first group of kids stopped playing, because no one told them they had to. But when the lights went out, and the sun went down, and when other kids turned to their PS2 and Gameboys, Lukas went an extra mile and timed himself, and I walked onto my driveway and shot free throws until my hands were black – tips of my hands were black (finger tip control…don’t worry Pete Maravich, I got you). When you take the time to develop a love for something – a true love – then you always feel like you are playing.
But that doesn’t mean that the play is always easy or free from trial and tribulation. Many of the thousands of miles I’ve logged since, and the countless windy days of shooting in my driveway as a kid instead of being in a fancy gym were dealt with in spite of frustration and the desire to quit or just simply make an excuse. But when you know that the real treasures in life don’t come in the form of instant gratification, which is the antithesis of the modern day tablet-driven youth culture, you decide to stick it through those hard times and bring yourself to the top, or at least see what happens and be proud of it for giving your all.
As a teacher and coach, I never see that in kids. They are wanting instant gratification. They are entitled to things. They have an excuse for every inadequacy or shortcoming or inability on their part. They want know ownership over their walk. They assume a position of being in the right, and when things don’t work out, when they are tired, when they get sick, hurt, or lose, they don’t turn and look in the mirror, they turn and point and blame. They want to find a coach or teacher who is credentialed that will “take them there.” The minute they start hearing something from that person that they don’t want to hear, they are gone, and usually, that is because as humans, we don’t do a good job of hearing stuff we “don’t want to hear” …because it’s true half of the time!
So, if there is anything to take, 10 years after this event, hopefully it is that as adults, we don’t continue to create this culture in our youth. Get them out and teach them how to play. Don’t send them somewhere and have an organization do that! Kids need to learn sacrifice, and it starts with you as the parent making the sacrifice to play with them. Believe me, I understand now, as a working individual who doesn’t even have kids, how great of a sacrifice that must be. I can’t really imagine coming home each day and having the gumption to pull myself out to play with kids – especially after teaching other people’s kids for 8.5 hours!
The US sports pipeline, if you dive into their curriculum, now includes stages of development all the way down to 3 and 4 year olds. Most of what it says there is stuff like “play a variety of sports” and “just enjoy, no specializing.” Ahhh….duh! That is called just being a kid. The problem – instead of parents cultivating that environment, clubs, groups, and organized activities are responsible – that is why it shows up in their curriculum. Unfortunately, this ignores the crucial development of that inner drive component. These kids are lost when they have to fend for themselves, when the season is over, and when they aren’t meeting up with their friends and their coaches and their teams.
The days of the Pete Maravich’s are long gone (how did I figure out how to reference the Pistol three times in an article about running). I’m afraid the days of the Lukas Gemar’s might be as well. But hopefully I’m wrong, and if I’m lucky, maybe this article will inspire someone to do something great with their abilities, like my best friend did for me and, if I’m thinking a little full of myself, like I did for him.
Ryan Sederquist is the head Nordic ski coach for the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He lives there with his wife of 4 years, Christie. He played basketball, ran cross country and high jumped at Moorhead High School and went on to run at Concordia College. After leaving Moorhead in 2015, he moved to Alamosa, Colorado, where he taught elementary music, coached XC, studied exercise physiology, and continued to produce rap songs in his sparebedroom. He also still is training way more than other’s think is sensible and dreaming higher than others think is safe as he continues to pursue his lifelong goal of wearing the red, white, and blue in some international competition. His quest, which he says, “will end when I turn 98….so I have a couple of years left for retirement and just eating bacon and raising chickens like my brother” has led him to a few respectable results, but he still considers his greatest accomplishments to be, as Lukas might agree, #3, setting the Moorhead gym record for consecutive free throws made as a sixth grader (129), #2, winning that mile run race, and finally, #1, marrying his wife.