Lead 'Dawg

Nikiski's Wicker wraps up solid cross country career

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

When coaches refer to go-to guys, they're usually talking about a runner they can count on to pop a good race at state, or a wrestler they can count on to tally up crucial points for the team.

Nikiski senior Ryan Wicker fits that bill just fine for the Bulldogs coaching staff. But what impresses Nikiski wrestling coach David Martian most about Wicker is that he's responsible and creative enough to take the definition of "go-to guy" further.

"I'm an eighth-grade math and science teacher at (Nikiski Middle-Senior High School)," Martian said. "Sometimes, I'll ask him to come to my room.

"When I need somebody to take care of something, he's the one."

Take this year, when Martian needed somebody to come up with a team-approved design for some new warm-ups. He gave the task to Wicker, who always had such a natural disposition for art that his parents had to tell him to stop doodling on his homework in elementary school.

"He had to come up with a design, take it to all the kids, get a vote and come up with other ideas," Martian said. "Within a week, it was all taken care of. All I had to do was place the order."

Wicker is not only valuable designing warm-ups, he's valuable when the warm-ups come off as well.

In late September, he completed his high school cross country career by finishing 10th in the Class 1-2-3A race to lead the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in state.

The performance capped a career that reached its peak in Wicker's sophomore year, when he finished eighth at state to help the Bulldogs to a state championship.

"I'll always remember when we won state my sophomore year," Wicker said. "We were sitting in the gym, and when they announced second place and we knew we were going to win, we just stood up and erupted."

Wicker's parents, Tammy and Mike, saw running potential in their son at an early age.

"Wherever he was going, he was always going in a real big hurry," Tammy said. "Probably as early as the fourth grade, with the Hershey Track and Field Meet, we knew he'd be a runner.

"It was something he looked forward to every year."

When he was in eighth grade, Wicker won the 800-meter run and finished second in the 1,600 at the middle school borough track meet.

Wicker said his performance in that meet encouraged him as much as his early high school career humbled him.

"I thought I was the stuff in middle school," he said. "In high school, guys put me in my place."

Wicker responded to that challenge by tinkering with his training, as well as his mental approach to races. He credited Lori Manion, his distance coach as a freshman and sophomore, with giving him running tips that are the rock that supports his career to this day.

However, not all of Wicker's training experiments were successful.

"I remember his junior year, when he hit the weights hard and looked like he was wearing a Batman suit," said Steve Gillaspie, Nikiski's cross country coach and assistant wrestling coach. "He was ripped.

"But he found out that extra weight was causing him to have shinsplints. I respect him for adjusting what he was doing in the weight room and coming back to have a strong year this year."

Tammy Wicker said her son has matured a lot in his junior and senior years, and that maturity has carried through to the way he runs a race.

"I actually started using race strategy instead of running as hard as I could until I ran out of gas," Wicker said.

A good example came at this year's Palmer Invitational, where Wicker hung back at the beginning of the race, then picked off about 30 runners to finish sixth.

While Wicker is looking forward to track season, when he hopes to break Mario Bird's school record of 1 minute, 59.22 seconds, in the 800 and help Nikiski's 1,600-meter relay to a state title, his immediate focus is wrestling season.

Last year, Wicker found wrestling was the answer to keeping him fit between the cross country and track seasons. He tried basketball as a freshman and cross-country skiing as a sophomore.

"In basketball, I spent more time on the bench than I did on the floor. In skiing, I spent more time in the trees than I did on skis," Wicker said.

Martian said he could tell early on that Wicker and wrestling would be a good fit.

"On the first day of practice last year, he had to wrestle kids like Steven Calderwood, Chris Roofe and Joshua Meeks," the coach said. "He took a beating, but he didn't avoid them the next day. He wanted to get right back in the mix.

"A lot of people would have went and found an easier group. He didn't."

Wicker made it to state at 145 pounds and knocked off a couple of quality kids to finish just out of the top six.

Martian said the mental toughness Wicker learned in running, as well as his natural aggression, made him a good wrestler.

"It didn't really surprise me when he did so well," Tammy said. "He's the oldest one in the family, and the kids are always tumbling around in the house.

"I'm surprised it took him so long to do it."

Wicker's commitment to excel goes beyond athletics. He gets A's and B's in the classroom and would like to go to the University of Oregon next year to pursue some sort of medical degree.

"I guess that comes from too many Prefontaine movies," Wicker said, referring to the Oregon distance star who held every American record from the 2,000 to the 10,000 when he died in a car crash on May 30, 1975.

Besides designing warm-ups, Wicker uses his art skills in a variety of ways at Nikiski. His VFW Patriotic Poster went to national competition.

Wicker also has been involved in student council, serving as the vice president of his class his junior year. He was in Boy Scouts until his junior year, and also earns money for college by working as a lifeguard at the Nikiski pool.

"He does it all in class, he does it all on the practice field, he does it all amongst his friends," Martian said. "He leads by example, and that's the most important thing that's missing in a lot of kids.

"Some kids lead because they're told to, and some lead to be in charge. He does his leading by doing what he wants everyone else to do."

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