This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published December 24, 2020
After running with the East Haven girls’ cross country team for two seasons, Nicole Pendziwater was unable to compete due to a knee injury as a junior. Instead of letting the setback end her career, Nicole decided to battle back and returned to the Yellowjackets as a captain in her senior year.
Prior to her junior season, Nicole tripped on a pile of rocks and scraped up her left knee. While Nicole thought that it was just a couple of cuts and bruises, it turned out that her knee had become inflamed.
Nicole was forced to miss her entire junior year and had to go through physical therapy for two months. As Nicole worked to return from her injury, all that she could think about was coming back better than ever as a senior.
“I didn’t want an injury to just stop me from doing the sport I love. I wanted to come back senior year and do the best I could do and be the best I can for my team,” Nicole says. “It was going to be my last year, and I wanted to put my all into it. I may be coming back from an injury season, but I can do anything I put my mind to.”
When her senior season came around, Nicole had a clean bill of health and was once again competing for the Easties. She was also named one of the captains for the East Haven girls’ team with fellow senior Erin Currin. Nicole finished her career by running at the SCC Division A Championship, where she came in 24th place with a time of 28:38.
“It was pretty awesome. I felt like a leader. It felt great to push my teammates and let them experience what I got to experience,” says Nicole of being a captain. “I wanted them to be the best that they could be. I wanted the team to be a big family, and it was a great experience being a leader alongside my other captain.”
As she’s been running cross country, Nicole has also competed for the East Haven girls’ basketball team. Nicole’s older sister Alexis is a 2020 graduate who played for the Yellowjackets and encouraged her to pursue the sport, as did their parents Duane and Ursula. Nicole says that playing two sports has helped her grow both on the court and the course.
“Running helped me with basketball, because it helped me be faster on the court. Basketball helped me if I failed. I learned how to be OK with failure,” Nicole says. “It helped me remind myself to keep pushing and that I’m on the team for a reason. I just have to have the confidence.”
Anthony Russell is the head coach of East Haven’s girls’ basketball and cross country squads. After watching Nicole compete for the past four years, Russell knows that she is always going to give her best effort, no matter the playing surface.
“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching Nicole in cross country and basketball for the last four years,” says Russell. “She is such a great kid and hard worker. She will be missed.”
Nicole started running cross country as a 6th-grader at Joseph Melillo Middle School. She saw how the athletes on the track and cross country teams seemed to have good relationships with each other. Nicole already had an interest in running, so she decided to give the sport a try.
When she started high school, Nicole immediately joined the East Haven cross country program. Nicole’s first year was challenging, but she learned a lot from watching so many talented runners compete. As she progressed through the program, Nicole maneuvered past numerous obstacles to become like the runners that she had admired during that first season.
“It was kind of difficult. It was more running to do, and you had to get to know different people,” Nicole says. “There were so many good runners, and I had to work each day to get just like them. I had to get through a lot of obstacles. Eventually, I got there. It just took a lot of effort.”
After she graduates from high school, Nicole will attend Gateway Community College to pursue a career in education. As she thinks about her career as a Yellowjackets’ athlete, Nicole says that playing sports has helped her grow a lot as a person and given her lifelong skills that go far beyond athletics.
“I learned skills that I can use anywhere. It helped me become competitive. Not just in sports, but in the real world,” says Nicole. “Teamwork is very important. You have to use all these skills throughout your whole life. Just being on the cross country team really helped me get ready for the future.”