Stelmack's leadership was key for Tigers
Unselfishness is easy to spot in most sports the basketball player that makes the extra pass, the baseball player that doesn't mind laying down a sacrifice bunt.
In cross country, a sport which celebrates individual accomplishments as much as those of the team, it's a little harder to pick out the athletes that care more about their teammates than themselves.
Northwestern's Tyler Stelmack added to an impressive list of individual accomplishments this year and for it he earned the 2012 TIMES NEWS Cross Country Player of the Year.
But the individual accolades mean little to him compared to the goals Stelmack's team met this season.
"Going to Hershey with a full team made it a lot more exciting, a lot more fun and a lot more rewarding," he said. "I've run with all these kids for three years and to see how far we've come in that span is phenomenal."
The Northwestern senior ran to his third straight District 11 medal this year, finishing fourth and leading the Tigers to the first boys district title in school history.
Stelmack has been his team's top runners since joining cross country as a sophomore. His leadership, work ethic and the example he set played a major role in the Tigers' success this year.
"The three years that we had him, you didn't have to motivate him at all," said Northwestern head coach Chris Stitzel. "He's a self-motivator. And his leadership this year, he got the guys going each race."
To help win the district title, Stelmack ran what could have been the most inspired race of his career.
He suffers from a vocal cord dysfunction that sometimes makes breathing difficult and painful. It caused him to drop out of at least one race this past fall. It came on at districts, but he battled through extreme pain to help his team.
"These are my best friends," Stelmack said after the state meet. "I would not trade them for anything. I wasn't really worrying about me anymore this year. I was focusing on the entire time. I didn't care about my place. I just wanted to get my team where we wanted to be."
Stelmack qualified for states all three years of his cross country career.
He finished in the top 35 every year, taking 35th as a sophomore and earning a state medal with a 12th-place finish as a junior. He closed his career in November, finishing 27th at states, two places away from a medal.
He went undefeated in his first Colonial League regular season, but an illness plagued him at the 2010 league championship meet as he finished 14th. He returned to win the league title in 2011 and place fourth this past fall.
Stelmack medaled in all three district appearances, placing sixth as a sophomore, second as a junior and fourth as a senior.
He was hoping to finish just a little higher in this year's postseason races. Another league title was certainly within his reach, as well as another district runner up finish and state medal.
But the breathing difficulties and high level of competition kept him just a couple places away from reaching his objectives.
"It's really frustrating," Stelmack said. "This summer was the most I trained and not to see a lot of it pay off the way I hoped it was going to pay off was depressing."
He quickly added that he "has nothing to complain about this season."
Moving another step or two higher on any of the podiums wouldn't change what he got out of this season. Reaching the team goals and finding out what he could do under difficult circumstances was enough of a reward.
Distance running is all about finding out how far one can push their body and Stelmack learned lot about that this year.
Like all great runners, he's pushes himself in every step of every race. He does it in practice as well. He learned from a young age not to give up.
"It comes from my parents," Stelmack said. "I was brought up not to quit and to keep trying.
"I was in complete pain [at districts] and I could hear my parents and coaches yelling to encourage me to keep going and finish."
Before joining cross country, Stelmack always enjoyed and excelled at running drills in other sports. When he was deep on the depth chart as a freshman football player, he knew it was his last year with that sport.
He decided to join the track team in spring and cross country in the fall of his sophomore season.
He credits the hills around his New Tripoli home for giving him just the right landscape to train.
"The hills you see around [Northwestern High School] are the hills I train on every day and some of them are very steep," Stelmack said. "I would say we're one of the best conditioned teams in the Colonial League, if not the district, just because of the area we live in."
Stelmack plans to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Kyle, and attend the University of Pittsburgh where he is considering walking on the cross country team or joining a club team.
His determination and unselfishness will make him an asset to any teams he joins, just as he was to Northwestern's team this season.