It was luck that brought sophomore Arek Barkaszi to Wittenberg’s Cross Country Team, he says. As a triple-sport athlete, the Florida native was deciding whether he would use his talents to contribute to Wittenberg’s Division III program in soccer, lacrosse or cross country. When he arbitrarily decided to select the short shorts and long spikes over cleats and turf, he settled his fate.
Barkaszi started running when he was in elementary school, with the encouragement of his parents. They made him try “every sport” until he found one he would stick to. At first, running was merely something he did that kept him in shape for soccer. But as he moved through high school, Barkaszi found a love for the sport and for the unique mixture of individualism and teamwork.
Barkaszi hasn’t broken any records but his own personal best. He’s never been nominated for Tiger of the Month, and he’s not a team captain. But according to the good-natured, perma-smiling athlete, it isn’t winning that matters. Instead, what matters most is his team. The team that is made up of some of his closest friends. The team that makes morning practices, long runs and “suffering” worth it.
“Runners are some of the quirkiest yet caring people you’ll ever meet,” Barkaszi said.
It is not only his teammates that have made his running career worthwhile, however. Barkaszi points to the sport as a “lifestyle” that offers him the opportunity to decompress, find peace in solitude and build himself up mentally.
“I feel that running has helped me define myself,” Barkaszi said.
When he defines the running herd, he says it is made up a group of people who are “somewhat motivated, and fairly crazy.” Barkaszi may be among the craziest of them all. Crazy compared to many athletes, who are motivated by competition and achievement rather than personal growth.
Barkaszi whimsically recalls when a Wittenberg teammate, Nick Stadler, told him that “people who run for competition are stupid.” While this may be an overstatement of Barkaszi’s actual feelings, something about it resonates with him. Barkaszi does run for competition, he says, but the only competition that matters is the race against himself. A victory to him is running faster than his last race and knowing he has worked hard when he finishes.
“I’ve never been the fastest or best runner so I don’t really worry about winning,” Barkaszi said. “If I feel that I worked my butt off, I’m a winner.”