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Lukas Verzbicas on a Quest to Make U.S. Olympic Team

The Sandburg High School alum will compete on Thanksgiving Day, taking another stride in his recovery from a devastating 2012 accident that injured his spine.

Lukas Verzbicas | Supplied photo.
Lukas Verzbicas | Supplied photo.
By Deanne Goodman
Oceanside-Camp Pendleton Patch

Lukas Verzbicas, a Lithuanian-American triathlete who is one of the finest young U. S. middle distance running prodigies, has entered the PMCU Oceanside Turkey Trot, which takes place Thanksgiving Day in Oceanside, CA. 

The Sandburg High School alum is again running and competing after a near end-of-life 2012 cycling accident left him severely injured. 

“I will be running for the win,” Verzbicas told Patch. “I am still coming back from my spinal cord injury last year and am in a heavy training block right now. I am very excited to run alongside 10,000 of my fellow Southern Californians for my first Thanksgiving down here in San Diego. It is also very encouraging to be part of an event that gives back so much to its community. I’m honored to be a part of it.” 

Verzbicas first returned to racing last year at the Orland Park Turkey Trot.

Verzbicas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and moved to the United Statesat the age of 9. While at Sandburg, Verzbicas broke the national prep record in the two miles, running 8:29.46 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, OR, on June 4, 2011. His mark was well below German Fernandez’s previous high school two-mile national record of 8:34.23 (2008).

A week later, in his final prep race in the High School Dream Mile at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York, Verzbicas become only the fifth high school runner to break four minutes in the mile with a time of 3:59.71. With that effort, Verzbicas joined an elite group of running legends, including Alan Webb, Jim Ryun, Tim Danielson and Marty Liquori.

Verzbicas will compete in the 5 Mile Run at the PMCU O'Side Turkey Trot on a fast, slightly downhill scenic course along the Oceanside coast.

Verzbicas lives in Chula Vista, CA and trains there at the U. S. Olympic Training Center. His goal is to make the upcoming U. S. Olympic teams in the triathlon and in track & field in either the 10K or 5K at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Only 20 years old, Verzbicas is a world triathlon junior champion and has had as much success in the triathlon as he has in distance running. He briefly attended the University of Oregon, but left the school after running just two cross country races.

“My running was ‘going backwards’ through dead legs caused by increased training instead of the cross training I was used to,” he said. “As a full-time runner I actually got slower and that’s when I realized I needed to swim and bike to be at my best as a runner.”

But Verzbicas’ goal of making the 2012 U. S. Olympic triathlon team was ended on July 31, 2012, when he was involved in a near-fatal bicycle accident while training in Colorado Springs, CO. The accident left him with a severely injured spine, several broken bones and the surgeon telling his parents he would never walk again. Verzbicas had temporary paralysis in his right leg following the accident. 

Related: See what his back injury looked like in this Twitter photo.

Two months of solid rehabilitation enabled him to sit up, walk and later to begin running. His rehab work included strength and flexibility training under the tutelage of his coach, world-renowned runner Joaquim Cruz of Brazil, the 800m Gold Medal winner at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA. 

Cruz has been invited to be official starter for the 5 Mile Race at the PMCU O’side ‘Turkey Trot.’

“The surgeon told my family I wouldn’t walk again, but thankfully no one told me that,” Verzbicas said. “After I had a little twitch in my legs, I decided if my legs can move that much, then I will not just run but I will be better than I was before. I am feeling better running now and know I have just a little ways to getting back to full strength. I will get there. Going thorough something so difficult made me mentally stronger and now I also appreciate my life much more.”

Verzbicas is used to tough challenges. 

“Growing up in the Midwest I’ve had to train through many treacherous Chicago winters where I ended up with frostbite once after a run in negative degree weather,” he said. “I was also tackled once by a German Shepherd when I passed his owner in the early morning hours. I got a nice bite wound in my quad, but thankfully the dog didn’t have rabies and I healed quickly.”

Verzbicas gets his athletic prowess from his parents, who were both competitive runners. 

His mother is a former Lithuanian record-holder at 3,000m. “Both my parents were competitive runners and later coaches so I grew up on the track with them,” he said. “I looked up to Steve Prefontaine as my inspiration as a child. He was my inspiration as a child to run as fearlessly as he did.

"Running is a gift I’ve been blessed with and so I feel the burning desire to pursue it as it is what I’m most passionate about.” 

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