More Than A Teammate
Boys Cross Country, Features, Seniors, Sports

More Than A Teammate

By Cameron Deckman

Responsible.

Determined.

Caring.

Helpful.

A leader.

These are the words used to describe Delta High School senior Ayden (AJ) Lewman.

Lewman is ranked number seven for his class in academics. He has run cross country for seven years, and track for six.

For as long as Lewman can remember he has had pain in his shins from running. 

Every single practice, his legs hurt.

Every single year, it kept getting worse.

It all came to a head his junior year. Near the end of his cross country season, he started biking instead of running. His legs hurt to the point his performance was taking a hit.

The pain in his shins would go away while he rode the bike, and it would keep him in shape for when he had to run.

For athletes with these types of injuries, they get put on “no contact” practice. This means he couldn’t make contact with the ground while doing cardio. He was put into a boot for four weeks, but then two more were added on top of that. The pain would not go away.

He continued to bike, but when his legs started hurting even with him not running on the ground, he knew something was wrong.

He went to get his legs checked at Central Indiana Orthopedics in Muncie, Ind..

They found that he is flat footed, and everytime he runs his legs twist themselves. This caused stress fractures to develop in each leg. 

He wore air casts for both of his legs and was not working out for the entirety of his track season.

Senior Ayden (AJ) Lewman (right) celebrates with the track team, at the Muncie Central Relays, while wearing a boot for a stress fracture. He was a junior at the time. (photo provided)

During this time away, Lewman says he went to a dark space mentally.

“Watching everyone else run while I can’t is just not a great space to be in,” Lewman said.

He started getting sick because he couldn’t run to stay healthy.

He started to lose his desire to run.

“There’s a part of me that thinks I can’t get back to where I was before, and if I do I can’t get any better,” Lewman said. “Also, there’s a part of me that just doesn’t want to try to get back up there in fear I will break again, and it will all be for nothing.”

Even though he was not allowed to run, he still showed up to every practice and meet.

He became known as “Coach Lewman” to his teammates. He stood on the sideline, cheering on his team and giving them advice.

He also helped his teammates by driving them to practices, driving them home, driving them to get food, driving them to play golf, and driving them to practically everything.

Teammate Noah Parrott, sophomore, met Lewman through carpooling. Parrott gave Lewman company, and in return Lewman taught Parrott about the team culture. Lewman helped Parrott get out of his comfort zone.

“If he hadn’t pushed me to do stuff and go do stuff with people, I would’ve stuck to being by myself for the whole season,” Parrott said. “It would’ve been less fun.”

Lewman was off of running for six months before he was allowed to return. The start was slow. He was following a strict plan.

One minute jogging, three minutes walking. Then three minutes jogging, one minute walking. Slowly he was building strength back into his legs.

Noah Parrott (left) and Lewman (next to Parrott) celebrate with the track team during the Owl Invite at Ball State University. (photo provided)

He was allowed to fully run just in time for the summer.

During his last year of summer cross country practices, Lewman was on a lighter workout plan by request of Mackenzie Dye Conley, the cross country and women’s track head coach.

Along with this, Lewman was not the fastest runner on the team. He wasn’t in the varsity range, or top seven on the team.

He still showed up every day and put in the work, but the newer recruits were just faster.

He didn’t let this impede his role on the team.

“He definitely was a verbal leader and a leader by example,” Dye Conley said. “I know he wasn’t our number one athlete, like some senior leaders are, but he was definitely the one I could trust with getting everything set up and taken down.”

He became an unofficial team captain for the team.

In his last cross country season, he started off with his first three race times in the 21-minute range. 

He was almost a minute off his PR, but he didn’t let his issues affect the team culture.

“While he may have been negative about his own performances, he was very much positive and wanted to encourage his teammates,” Dye Conley said. “I never heard him say anything negative about how anybody else ran.”

Lewman and Garritt Oliver, a junior, talk right after the Eagle Invitational cross country race. (photo by Tim Cleland)

Lewman was not on the varsity roster for county and was heading to his least favorite meets back to back.

These meets were the Maconaquah Invitational and the Flashrock Invitational. Maconaquah’s course is a makeshift type of course. Runners go through old farming land with rough footing. They run up tall hills followed by long and flat straights. They pass over multiple roads and a bridge. They run past a herd of cows, and finally near the end they run on an almost 45-degree angle until the end.

It is a rough course to run. On top of that, Lewman was running on JV.

He would only have a select few to run with.

However, his teammate Luke Huston was right next to him the whole time.

Huston, a sophomore, had been running with Lewman almost the entire year. Almost every single race he would beat Lewman right at the end.

It had annoyed Lewman all year. So when Lewman got in front of Huston early in the race, he tried everything he could do to hold it.

He swerved to keep Huston behind him. He stayed as close to the curves as possible to make Huston use more energy.

He did all of this, but in the final stretch, it ended the same.

However, Lewman ran a 20-minute and 36-second race.

He was almost back to where he had been prior to his injury.

The following week was at Flashrock.

Flashrock is similar to Maconaquah in many ways.

Flashrock is known for its hills. The course is full of tall rolling hills and long downward slopes. There are multiple roads and several slippery areas.

Instead of dreading the race like he had in the past, he convinced his teammates that it would be fun. He hyped up the race, and said that it might be a hard course but it is a fun one.

He was able to pace off others during the race. He pulled away from Huston, and was able to set a new PR for himself. His time was 20:25.

AJ would finish his season at the Eagle Invitational on Oct. 7, 2023. All Delta runners were up before the sun was even barely in the sky. It was a frigid, frosty, and early morning.

The Delta Eagles host their meet at the Taylor University cross country course in Upland, Ind.

It would be the last time he would warm up with the team. The last time he would wear his uniform. The last time he would run a 5k with his team.

He started off the race with his second fastest first mile in the season, with a time of 6:09. He was right next to Huston.

Lewman runs with sophomore Luke Huston (behind the runner with Park on his shirt) during the Eagle Invitational. (photo by Tim Cleland)

In the second mile, he split a 6:33. He was on pace for another PR. In the third mile, Huston pulled away from him. Lewman split a 7:00 last mile. If he wanted to end the season with a PR, he would have to push it in the last stretch.

The last one tenth of the race took all he had.

He ended up with a PR by six-tenths of a second.

That was the end. Four years of cross country was over just like that.

During the cross country banquet, Lewman had the waterworks flowing for everyone.

In his teary-eyed speech, he showed his gratitude for being on the team. He explained how much the team meant to him.

He doesn’t plan on running in college, but it’s not just because his legs will hurt.

“People will be completely different, and our team is just so special in the way we do things,” Lewman said. “We’re like a big family, we all take care of each other, love each other, and screw with each other as much as possible.”

 During the banquet Lewman was given awards for academic all-state and best mental attitude.

He was able to get back to where he was before his injury.

He was able to inspire his younger teammates to push themselves farther, to love each other, and to love the sport.

He was more than just a teammate.

He was responsible, determined, caring and helpful

But most importantly, he was a leader.

“[The team is] a family that I really just love to be a part of, and I just hope it keeps growing,” Lewman said. “[It brought me] some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and some of the longest friends I’ve ever had. I just love these people.”

May 14, 2024

About Author

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Cameron Deckman Cameron Deckman is a sophomore at Delta High School. He enjoys running, but always forgets his water bottle. He has crazy shin problems and after every run can be seen limping. He drinks black coffee like an old man. He plays baseball, too, and his favorite team is the Cincinnati Reds. DE LA CRUZ ON TOP!


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