SKOKIE — One of the state's best prep distance runners spent much of his first three years of high school eating fried chicken and french fries and chugging Mountain Dew.
In the 1,600, Schmieg dropped his time from a season-best 4:44 as a junior to a 4:17 this year. In the 800, his clocking was reduced from 1:58 to 1:55.
"I miss the fries and the Dew, but winning state is better than a glass of soda," said Schmieg, 18, of Edgewater. "That's what keeps me going."
In his 12 seasons as Lane's head coach, Kristopher Roof has implemented a no-pop rule for his athletes. He said Schmieg was the only Lane runner not to abide by the rule, and while he wouldn't kick Schmieg off the team, Roof wasn't happy with the star runner's decision.
Schmieg, who lives about a block from Roof, would even jokingly rub the rule in his coach's face, leaving empty bottles of Mountain Dew on his doorstep.
"He would never own up to it, but I knew it was him," Roof, a former steeplechaser at DePaul, said smiling.
Schmieg last "did the Dew" at an Italian restaurant Downtown in November and had his most recent fried food in January. In addition to his plummeting finishing times, Schmieg said he's felt much better physically and mentally.
Schmieg, Vara and juniors Christian Badillo and Pavlo Hutsalyuk posted Illinois' top indoor time this year in the 3,200 relay with a 7:54.2. The foursome will be one of the favorites at the IHSA state finals, and they hope to beat Lane's state-winning time of 7:47.42 in 2012.
Schmieg also is a legitimate threat to pick up individual titles in the 800 and 1,600. But even if he can't stand atop the podium, Schmieg said his running career, which began at Newberry Math and Science Academy in Lincoln Park in seventh grade, has been exhilarating.
"What I love about it, it's your body, mind, heart and soul all in one race," he said. "It really just proves what your body can really do."
By no means are Schmieg's running days over. Roof said prior to this season, Schmieg would have been a contributor to a small Division I program, but the dramatic improvement has put him in more elite waters.
In fact, Schmieg is deciding between the University of Illinois and the University of Minnesota, which he visited last week.
And Schmieg knows at both Big Ten institutions, pop and fried goodies won't be part of the equation.
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