From #2 Runner to "Will I even run?"
Thomas Koska was North Phoenix Prep's slotted number-two runner going into the 2019 season as an incoming Sophomore and the team was in the mix as a State Championship contending team in Division IV. As the summer was wrapping up, he had some major pain in his foot and had to go to the doctor. Several doctors found different things from a cyst to possible cancer. In the end, he had to take the first nine weeks off of the season and was immobilized with a boot. At the end of the eight weeks, the anomaly and pain were gone. In the meantime, he was limited to pool running and biking to try to keep some endurance training up.
Helping the Gladiators win State
With just six weeks remaining in the season, he was allowed to start running again. Thomas came back determined to help our team challenge for the state title but he had lost so much ground in the nearly two-month absence. His coach set up a plan for him to work his way back in and customized all workouts with the aim of having him as prepared as possible for the state meet. His first race of 2019 was October 25th at Mt. SAC. The race did not go to his expectations and he was around 2 minutes off his teammates and our Top 4. Over the course of the final three weeks of the season, Thomas lowered his time enough to be back in our Top five and had the potential to make an impact at the State meet.
What transpired at the State meet was a remarkable achievement based on Thomas' hard work, grit, and belief in the coaching plan and mostly, himself. As the race unfolded, Koska put himself in scoring position for his team (5th man) and placed 30th in the DIV race, which helped the Gladiators to a 40-point win over perennial champion Hopi.
More Bad News for Koska
Two months after the State meet, Thomas was diagnosed with Leukemia. For most individuals, this would be the end of their high school sports career and it may well be the end for Koska, but after speaking with him, I doubt it. During the first four months of treatment, he was not allowed to do any activity but was slowly released to get some exercise. During April and May, he went out and would walk ¼ mile or bike a mile every so often. In June, his treatment went into the next phase where he would be in the hospital for a weekend and then need to recover until the next treatment which would usually happen every 3-4 weeks based on his levels. In between the hospital stays, Thomas has been able to work out with his team and has been averaging around 18-20 miles a week.
Down but still determined
At the beginning of August, he was able to run an 18:49 5k time trial. Over this past month, Koska has been getting stronger and stronger, now keeping up with team repeat 800s at 2:45 pace and able to do a 60 min run in the 7-8 mile range. Last week, he was told by his doctor that he will not be cleared for cross country season as he will be transitioning to another stage of treatment that will be more aggressive. He currently has another 2-3 weeks before that starts and that treatment will be lasting about 2-3 months. When Coach Curtis spoke with Thomas about it, he was bummed but the first thing he replied to his coach was "Hopefully I will be able to come back by Sectionals and State." His coach told me that he had never met someone so determined and dedicated.
After speaking with Koska last night, it doesn't look like he will have a chance to compete in the 2020 cross country season due to his treatment plan, but he does have his sights on track and field. While cross country is his first love, he simply wants to compete and bring down his times to have an opportunity to compete at the collegiate level after his senior season in 2022. A remarkable young man who has poise beyond his years and a thirst to be the best he can be no matter what gets in his way.