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College and the Olympics: Best of Both Worlds for Verzbicas

Former Sandburg standout Lukas Verzbicas following a smart path in pursuit of his Olympic dream.

When the news broke about former Palos Heights resident and Sandburg cross country standout Lukas Verzbicas’ decision to leave the University of Oregon midway through his freshman year, I was concerned.

My concerns were alleviated when I learned Verzbicas will enroll at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs as he turns from a career in distance running to the pursuit of his dream of making the U.S. Olympic triathlon team. Stay in school. The message is one worth repeating to young men and women, no matter how gifted they might be in endeavors outside the classroom.

Think of it like this: How many 18-year-old phenoms turn down full-ride college scholarships after they are drafted by a major league baseball team, only to fizzle out before ever appearing in the The Show? Even when scholarship money is guaranteed for use later, research shows 20-somemthings are less likely to return to school once they’ve closed the book on that chapter of their lives.

Verzbicas is in a unique position to get his education and make his mark in the triathlon world. As Philip Hersh reported in his column in the Chicago Tribune, two things stand in his way: Verzbicas lacks the senior-level experience to be considered a legitimate Olympic contender for the 2012 London Games. And, as a native of Lithuania who holds a green card, he still needs to gain U.S citizenship before he can represent Team USA. Perhaps you’ll be cheering for him in Rio in 2016.

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