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Freeport grad relishes return to running

Two months with no running had Nick Gentile feeling stir crazy. Taking away his running was like taking the tires off his car.

But the Robert Morris freshman followed doctor's orders and rested, and now he might be in the best competitive-running shape of his track career.

Gentile has recovered from a nagging lung ailment that hindered his senior track season at Freeport and slowed his transition to college cross country and track.

Gentile had a small tear in his lung -- known as spontaneous pericardium -- which forced him to miss the PIAA championships last May. But after sitting out for two months last summer, he returned to competitive running and is turning heads as he passes 800-meter runners this track season.

Gentile broke the RMU school 800 record in the indoor and outdoor seasons, the latter coming at the season-opening Wake Forest Open when he ran a time of 1:53.14.

Last weekend, he ran a 1:55.57 to win the Virginia Commonwealth Invitational.

"I am confident and feel like I have my stride back," Gentile said.

Gentile also has been running the anchor leg of the 1,600-meter relay for the Colonials.

Gentile's ailment did not require surgery, but doctors wanted to give the lung time to heal.

A biology/pre-med major, Gentile was advised by a cardiologist to take a month off, but RMU's medical staff prescribed two months.

"Nick's better traits are his work ethic, his loyalty to his coaches and his finishing kick," Robert Morris coach Michael Smith said. "He works very hard at what I ask him to do. If it is a long run -- not his specialty -- he will give his best effort every time."

The finishing kick is what impresses Smith most, and it played a key part in Gentile landing a Division I scholarship.

"Nick has a finishing kick that makes me smile from ear to ear," Smith said. "When it appears that he might be out of the race, he shifts gears and passes so many of is competitors. He seems to know exactly when he needs to go. It is a unique ability that he has."

Smith said he knew of Gentile's health issue, but that did not affect his scholarship offer, which already was on the table.

"I was surprised when I heard about the health problem, but I had already made the scholarship offer, so I stuck with it," Smith said. "We did have Nick see our team doctor in the summer, but it was not going to have any impact on his scholarship. I just wanted to know what he could and could not do as far as training goes."

Gentile will seek to finish near the top at the Northeast Conference Championships on May 7-8 in West Branch, N.J., and the IC4A East Coast Championships on May 14-15 in Princeton, N.J.

Gentile needs to run a time of 1:51.80 to get into the IC4A event.

"He does not need any extra expectations from me," Smith said. "Unfortunately the weather has been wreaking havoc on our season. I hope there will be some good-weather meets soon."

Gentile said he was allowed to ride an exercise bike lightly and actually lost weight during his time away from running.

"I wasn't running so I wasn't as hungry," he said. Gentile ran cross country for RMU starting in late August. The season served more of a tune-up purpose for track -- both indoor and outdoor.

"The hardest part was the endurance," Gentile said. "But it came back pretty quick. I feel like my leg strength is back to where it was."

There is another overcoming-adversity story to the school-record run. When Gentile first arrived at Wake Forest, he was walking around Kentner Stadium looking for some teammates when something flew into his eye.

To this day, he doesn't know what it was, but it caused a corneal abrasion. Gentile didn't find that out until a post-race hospital visit -- after he ran his record time.

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