CHICAGO — The fastest prep miler in Chicago Public League history came to this country as a fourth-grader speaking almost no English and didn't start running until high school.
Recent Lane Tech graduate Pavlo Hutsalyuk last month won the IHSA Class 3A state title in the 1,600 meters in 4:08.19 — the best mile from a public league athlete ever. The University of Iowa-bound runner broke his personal-best time by six seconds.
"It's pretty cool," Hutsalyuk said of holding the public league mark. "In 20 years, it means they're still going to talk about me ... unless somebody runs faster. It's cool being part of history."
Watch Hutsalyuk's state championship race below:
Hutsalyuk's history in the United States dates to 2006, when he, his father Vasil, mother Nataliya and older sister Tanya moved to Ukrainian Village from Ukraine after Vasil had won a green card in a lottery. When Hutsalyuk began fourth grade at neighborhood Columbus Elementary School, he knew only a handful of English words. But by the start of fifth grade, Hutsalyuk said he "wasn't fluent, but I was getting there."
Hutsalyuk said his will to learn English came from watching the work ethic of his parents. Vasil's first career in America was as a building contractor; now he owns a construction company that builds homes and garages. Nataliya started as a cleaning woman and now owns a cleaning service, still doing the work herself from time to time.
Hutsalyuk spent Wednesday helping his dad build a house. He's been working with his father on site since age 12 or 13, he said.
"Ever since I was young, my parents made me work hard," Hutsalyuk said. "You have to work for what you want."
Recent Lane Tech graduate Pavlo Hutsalyuk with his family. [Pavlo Hutsalyuk]
That commitment transferred to the track, even though Hutsalyuk didn't begin running until ninth grade. He said a background in youth soccer made him fast, but he became tired of the sport and instead wanted to focus on racing.
Tony Jones, Hutsalyuk's distance coach at Lane Tech, said he was a "rare breed for a Chicago Public League distance runner."
"He never let his tremendous talent go to his head," Jones said. "As a coach I was incredibly blessed to have coached him. Pavlo is definitely a self-made kid."
Hutsalyuk, whose family now lives on the Northwest Side, last weekend finished his summer racing at the Brooks PR in Seattle. He's heading to Iowa likely in August and will run in the 800 and 1,500 meters, plus the 3,200-meter relay for the Hawkeyes. Hutsalyuk, who had a 4.5 grade point average (on a 5.0 scale) and scored a 30 on the ACT, chose Iowa over Penn State, Indiana and Harvard.
He'll major in business at Iowa, and like his father, hopes to one day own a construction firm.
"Only bigger than his," Hutsalyuk said.
Pavlo Hutsalyuk won the 1,600 meters at the IHSA Class 3A state finals. [Colin B Photography]
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