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John Gregorek helped Columbia win an Ivy cross country championship in 2013 and was named an All-American in the indoor mile.

This senior profile is part of Spectator's 2014 commencement special issue. Check out the 17 other senior profiles, the class day ceremony recaps, and a timeline of the biggest events of the last four years.

It would have been hard to predict how John Gregorek's career as a Lion would turn out based on the way it began.

The native of Seekonk, Massachusetts, who ran cross country and both indoor and outdoor track all four years, was poised to do great things before he even arrived at Columbia—he had a stellar high school record, and both his parents were world-class runners.

In his first two years, though, Gregorek struggled to meet those expectations and was often beset by injuries. But persistence was one of the harrier's best qualities, according to cross country and track and field head coach Willy Wood.

“He was never running the times we thought he was quite capable of, but through that time, never once was he negative, never once did he not work as hard as he could, never once did he waver in terms of his loyalty to the program,” Wood said.

In time, Gregorek became one of the program's best assets. In his senior year, he broke the storied four-minute mile mark at indoor Heps (thanks to the time adjustment resulting from Dartmouth's flat track), was selected to run the prestigious Wanamaker Mile, and was named first-team All-American in the indoor mile.

His favorite memory, though, was leading the Lions to an Ivy title in cross country last fall, reclaiming the trophy they won in 2009 from the Princeton Tigers, who won it in the three intervening years.

“Freshman year, I wouldn't even have dreamed of being on the team that ran at Heps,” Gregorek said. But as he and his teammates got faster, they also developed more faith in themselves. “Senior year, we were like, ‘We can do this, we can beat these guys, we have the confidence.' It was so cool just to beat Princeton and get to be a part of something bigger.”

Reflecting on his career as a Lion, Gregorek recalled not only the highs—the thrill of winning Heps—but also the lows—the embarrassment of being lapped in the 3,000 meters and finishing third-to-last his sophomore year, or the frustration resulting from the cross country team's inability to capitalize on its Heps win at NCAAs his senior year.

“The lows are just as much a part of the process,” he said. After a bad meet, “if you're that upset about it, it drives you that much more moving forward. I think that going into indoor and outdoor, that cross country disappointment—we just fed off of it.”

Gregorek has found a real community among his teammates, anchored by their daily meals at John Jay.

“Five o'clock, everyone goes in and sits down. No matter where anyone was during the day, 95 percent of the team is there. It's like a family dinner,” he said. “Everyone goes over their days, everyone's telling stories, everyone's cracking up—that's irreplaceable.”

His coaches said he's been able to channel those friendships into success on the track.

“He's a true teammate—he runs for other people,” Wood said. “Any situation he's in where he feels like somebody else would benefit from his performance, he always runs significantly better.”

“He's found that fine line of being relaxed and having fun, but when we get to the start of the line, he wants to kill,” assistant coach Will Boylan-Pett, CC '05, said. “You look at him, you think he's a goofy, have-fun kind of guy, but when he gets to the line there's a different person that comes out. You can be alienating if you're like that all the time, and he found a way to just channel that when it needs to be done.”

In the end, it was his teammates that made Gregorek choose Columbia.

“When I came here on my recruiting trip, I just knew that the Columbia guys were so much closer and so much more committed to each other than any other team I saw,” he said. “I'm thankful that I did it.”

This senior profile is part of Spectator's 2014 commencement special issue. Check out the 17 other senior profiles, the class day ceremony recaps, and a timeline of the biggest events of the last four years. | @fvigeland

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