Providence Day junior Nick Linder spends every Fourth of July in Southport with his family. And
every summer since the age of 10, Linder has participated alongside his mom in Southport’s Fourth of July Festival Freedom 5K Run.
For one of south Charlotte’s most talented runners, that’s where it all began.
“My mom and I have done the 5K together every year,” Linder said. “The first time I ran it, she beat me and I said, ‘You’re never going to beat me again.’ We signed up for another 5K in August and I beat her and I’ve been getting better ever since. It was then I saw that this was something I could be really good at if I wanted to be.”
Perhaps “really good” is an understatement. Linder just wrapped up his junior season at Providence Day and has helped spearhead the Chargers dominating run the last few seasons, as they’re the back-to-back N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 3A state champions.
Linder grabbed two individual titles of his own and a relay title to help the Chargers toward their win. Linder’s 9 minutes, 36.14 seconds in the 3200 was four seconds ahead of the runner-up and an easy gold place medal for the swift star. Linder edged North Raleigh Christian Academy rival Ryan Speer in the 1600 to mark his second first place finish of the day, running a quick 4:20.65. But he didn’t stop there, running a leg of the championship 4×800 team and taking third place in the 800 (1:58.16).
For Linder, beating Speer in the 1600 was the sweetest victory of his accomplished career thus far.
“Ryan and I have gone back and forth for the last two or three years and he’s had me the last few races,” Linder said. “He was fresh that day because he hadn’t run any races, and I’d already run two. He has a really good kick in the last lap so the plan was for me to go out hard and make him tired. But 10 minutes before the race, (Coach Ben Hovis) told me to change things up.”
That’s exactly what Linder did. Starting out the race slower than usual and running in second place for the majority of the event, Linder picked up his pace in the last lap and with 200 meters left, realized the time was now or never.
“When it came down to the last lap, I was in second place but with 200 meters left I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this, let’s go for it,’” he said. “I gave it everything I got and ended up winning. I ran the last lap in 57 seconds, which is the fastest I’ve closed anything in a long time. It felt great.
“The whole meet was so emotional. My races were emotional and the meet was emotional especially because we won as a team, and it was great to win alongside those guys.”
But for Linder, who is the 2014 South Charlotte Weekly Boys Track and Field Runner of the Year, getting to the state championship meet and winning the gold was an uphill battle.
Linder wasn’t the Chargers’ top distance runner when the season began – that honor belonged to senior Ben Huffman, an all-state selection and Harvard commit. But Huffman went down with a leg fracture just a few weeks into the season that sidelined him for the rest of the year. Linder knew he was going to have big shoes to fill in order to keep the Chargers hopes of a repeat title alive.
“When Ben got hurt, that was the moment when I knew I had to take the reigns,” Linder said. “Ben was my workout partner and we would always use each other to get better. I was left on my own and workouts got tougher.”
But Linder was up to the challenge, and when he blazed the 1600 in 4:16.59 at the Apex Relays on April 19, it was clear he had the ability to help the Chargers in Huffman’s absence. Linder said the unexpected challenge of losing his running partner made him that much stronger as a competitor and athlete.
“Honestly, I thought the season would be a lot harder,” he said. “But it taught me that I needed to run a little differently and doing all of that on my own definitely made me stronger.”
Linder has come a long way from the boy that used to compete against his mom in summer 5K races. Now, he’s looking toward his senior seasons in both cross-country and track and is already receiving interest from Division-I recruits.
“The last few years have been great,” he said. “Coach Hovis helped make all the difference and he’s definitely a collegiate-caliber coach. I’ve been lucky to have him and to run at Providence Day and he’s the one who pushed me to run in college. I didn’t believe I could do it, but here I am. I don’t know where I’ll end up but I’m keeping my options open and I’m already excited about next season.”