at the races Exclusive: 11-year-old Phenomenon Wins Again; Eyes Pizza, and Junior Olympics

Exclusive: 11-year-old Phenomenon Wins Again; Eyes Pizza, and Junior Olympics


Our most popular story last year—by about the distance she beats most grown-up runners—was on Sawyer Nicholson, who, at 10-years-old, won the 5K at the Niagara Falls International Marathon. Being geniuses, we decided to check in on her again—and two days later she broke the provincial under-13 record in the indoor 2,000 metres (6:49:64) and set a PB, at the same meet, in the 1,200, running 3:57:84.

The kid is fast, and she’s only getting faster.  

Little Feet: Sawyer en route to breaking the Athletics Ontario under-13 record.

“I like that I can express myself in my running and show people what I can do,” she told us, from her home in Stouffville, Ontario, a place that’s now been filmed by the CBC, who placed Sawyer at the centre of their evening news broadcast. “The number one thing I want to do is improve all my times and make them as fast as they can possibly can get this year. I really like being on the podium.” 

The podium is a place Nicholson has grown increasingly comfortable on, since storming the running world with first place wins at the Zoo Run in Toronto and the 5K in Niagara Falls. To be clear: the 11-year-old isn’t only beating other children, she’s beating grown-up athletes, including men with Boston Marathon tattoos and $350 sneakers. Nicholson, who wears her hair dyed pink at the edges and had pizza both for lunch and dinner on the day last week when we spoke, doesn’t seem to be wilting under the pressure. She laughed often, and had a teddy bear visible on her bed. Often times her race bibs cover most of her shirt. But that’s not to belie her generational talent.

The kid runs like the wind.      

“I don’t really think about stuff when I’m running, I kind of just think about getting to the end and how I’ll feel when it’s over and I’ve accomplished what I want to accomplish,” she said. “A lot of people are cheering for me and I want to keep pushing and it might hurt right now, but I’ve done races a lot and I know that feeling will soon be over, and I know that I’ll feel really proud.” 

Small Wonder: Sawyer Nicholson, standing out from the crowd.

Her personal best in the 5K is 18:55; 3,000 metres is 10:45, and 1,500 metres is 5:04. All of these times are faster than mine and I’m the editor of iRun and wrote a marathon training book and have done Boston twice. She doesn’t spend much time thinking about her form and often her race strategy consists of: just go! It could be that Sawyer just loves running and it could be that grace is also part of her success. I asked her how she celebrates her wins.   

“I make sure to say good job to everyone in the race because I would want people to do that to me,” she said. “It’s not really about the medal; like, someone might out-race you even if you have a great race, but it’s just like, ‘Oh man, wow – that person really ran a great race, you know? Congratulations!’ You shouldn’t be upset, just motivated to try again.”

Nicholson tried again after our conversation and set an Athletics Ontario record and brought her dream of running for Canada in this summer’s Junior Olympics one step closer to being real. With each passing race, the 11-year-old gains ground on her fellow runners, becoming one of Canada’s brightest stars. Could she be the next Lanni Marchant, Gabbi Stafford, Andre de Grasse or Krista DuChene? She doesn’t know, but she’s trying. I asked her what it feels like to be Canada’s fastest 11-year-old and she smiled. 

She said, “I’m having a lot of fun.”   

All photos courtesy of Doug Smith, OMA