Nail in heel had plucky Hawk running on his toes
Jeff Veiga (inset) finished a rather pedestrian 96th at last weekend's New England
The University of Massachusetts at Lowell freshman didn't figure in the scoring, but he was a key topic of conversation after the River Hawks - behind the second- and third-place finishes of senior Ruben Sanca and junior Rex Radloff - soared to their second New England title in three years.
Veiga covered the last 2 miles of the 5-mile course with a nail in his right heel, forcing him to limp home on his toes.
"I picked [up the nail] about 3 miles into the race," recalled Veiga, who as a senior, ran last year at Lowell High. "I thought it was a pebble. That had happened to me before during a training run. This time, though, it felt sharper and the pain was more severe. I had to run on my toes. When I finished and took off my sneaker, I couldn't believe what I saw."
What Veiga discovered was a rusty nail that had penetrated the sole of his sneaker and punctured his heel.
"He brought the sneaker over to me with the nail still in it," said UMass coach Gary Gardner. "It was the strangest thing. In all my years of running and coaching I had never seen anything like it. . . . For him to finish the race on his toes took a lot of courage. He's a typical Lowell High kid. Dare I say it, 'tough as nails.' "
Veiga's wound was treated on the spot and, because he recently had a tetanus shot, it's expected there will be no complications.
The New England Cross Country Championships, run annually since 1912, lump together Division 1, 2, and 3 programs. And for the first 93 years, Division 1 ruled. UMass-Lowell broke that streak in 2006 and finished second last year.
Two titles and one second in three years leave the River Hawk program in an enviable position.
"For us, this is as big as it gets inside New England," said Gardner, now in his seventh year as coach. "The only thing bigger is an NCAA title and with all the resources available to Division 2 schools throughout the nation, that's probably not realistic for us. It's not a given that a school our size can win a New England title, so when we have a shot, we take it. What this does do is give us credibility in the recruiting field.
"Recruiters can tell kids what they want to hear in an effort to entice them to their schools," he continued. "We don't have to do that, We can say, 'this is what we do.' Winning two New England championships in three years against schools in all divisions enables us to recruit on a level playing field."
UMass topped the field of 47 colleges with 79 points and edged the University of New Hampshire (89).
Sanca, clocked in 24 minutes, 38 seconds, was nosed out for the title by Boston College senior Tim Ritchie. Radloff (24:43) was seven seconds behind Sanca.
Sanca and Radloff "ran very mature races," said Gardner. "Our goal was to have them finish in the top five. Anything beyond that was a bonus. They sat in the lead pack through 5,000 meters and touched the lead just before that. Ritchie pulled ahead of Sanca at about 4 miles and it was a kick to the finish."
All five of UMass scoring runners finished in the top 30: senior Jason DeDonato of Nashua was 18th, sophomore Angus MacDonald of Methuen 28th in 25:19, and senior Jack Kilcommons 30th.
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