Freshman runner travels internationally, finds community in cross country


Richie Mercado

Sgouros (1275) appreciates the unity and camaraderie of the SJS XC team.

Tyler King, Staff Writer

Emmanuel Sgouros didn’t always think of himself as a competitive runner — for most of his life, he played soccer. But after living in Greece for two years, Sgouros returned to Houston and ran cross country for AOS, where he won six of the nine meets he ran at as an eighth grader.

Sgouros, a freshman, now attends the 6 a.m. Mavericks cross country practices. There are a few differences from what he experienced at AOS — the team is much larger, more runners are near or above his skill level and the training is more intense — but Sgouros’ main takeaway from the team thus far has been its strong sense of community both in and out of practice.  

“Cross country really helped me coming into St. John’s,” Sgouros said. “Just knowing people on the first day from all groups helped, and it’s good to make friends with other students.”

Both cross country teams go on annual retreats right before the start of the fall season; past trips for the boys have included Eugene, Oregon and this year’s trip to Flagstaff, Arizona. These retreats provide time for team bonding, and Sgouros took advantage of the early opportunity to meet people.

“Going into [the retreat], I was kind of shy and didn’t really know anyone, but coming out of it I knew a lot of people and had a group of people I enjoyed hanging out with,” Sgouros said.

Because Sgouros played soccer competitively both in the U.S. and in Greece, he only began formal running training in his eighth-grade year at AOS. Two years before that, Sgouros and his family moved to Greece so that he could learn the culture and language of the since his father is Greek. Originally, the family had planned to stay for one year, but they extended their stay for Sgouros’ sixth- and seventh-grade years.

“It’s a different culture — the way of life is different,” Sgouros said of Greece. “It’s a less stressful environment, but I don’t know which one’s better in terms of long-term effects.”

Although Sgouros ran as a hobby in Greece, he did not run for a club or school team. Running cross country at a high-school level has been an adjustment for him but has also helped him improve. In middle school, runners typically do not run more than two miles, but high school meets are normally 5Ks.

“The older runners, in particular, have been really helpful for me,” Sgouros said. “They tell you how to run and how to pace, and it’s different running a 5K, so they’ve been very supportive.”

Being part of a collaborative and competitive team isn’t new to Sgouros. Fellow AOS cross country runner Daniel Colson, now also a freshman at SJS, remembers how the AOS team always encouraged each other and how Sgouros was central to that.

“Emmanuel would finish far ahead of everybody, so he’d come back and start cheering for everyone else finishing, including me,” Colson said.

Sgouros has carried these qualities to the Maverick team.

“[Emmanuel]’s the kind of person you can rally behind,” captain Jonah Pesikoff said. “You can just tell based on the way he leads the group during and outside of workouts. He’s that guy who will always be reliable and show up on time.”

Colson remembers that Sgouros would always support his teammates at AOS cross country practices. Pesikoff also sees Sgouros’ dedication to the sport.

“I am really impressed that he is one of those freshmen who has just never missed a workout,” Pesikoff said. “He puts in 100 percent effort and never lets anything get in his way.”

In the upcoming meets, Sgouros hopes to continue improving and ultimately aims to break the freshman 5K record. So far this year, he has exceeded his own expectations.

“You have to keep at it — that’s the biggest thing for me,” Sgouros said. “You can’t slack off when it comes to running because it will really show, and I think that’s the most important thing that I’ve realized over my career [as a runner].”