Ya gotta believe
During the cross country season, La Porte boys coach Corbin Slater always takes the time to scout out future talent at the middle school level.
He’s the first to admit Mitchell Gits never appeared on his radar.
“He was a middle of the pack guy, nothing special,” Slater said. “That’s what’s awesome about cross country. You never really know what to expect.”
A few years later, the middle school kid who ran simply to be with his friends, who didn’t even want to run in high school, is not only the Slicers’ No. 1 runner but a sectional runner-up and a solid contender to qualify for state.
“If you would have told me that in sixth grade, eighth grade, even as a freshman, I’d be like, no,” Gits said. “I always joke with coach, he said he never thought I’d be anywhere near here. I remember the first day of the summer going into my freshman year, I did three miles and it was awful. Guys were running crazy fast times, I was like, there’s no way, I might as well not even try. I wanted to quit, but I kept with it.”
Gits’ story is one of perseverance, untapped ability ultimately reached through a methodical process of building self-confidence.
“He was always a hard worker, but running just wasn’t really his thing. He just did it,” Slater said. “Going from a middle schooler with no expectations to 12th on the team as a freshman to, all of a sudden, No. 4, we started seeing the talent he had. The biggest thing always has been knowing that he belonged. He flipped the switch this year. This summer, he was a different kid. He took a whole different approach. Reading his running logs, every day, he was looking at the positive aspects of the run, and that’s huge. It’s been a fun journey to watch.”
Admittedly ready to have the season over as a freshman, Gits earned the last post-season roster spot, tagging along to state with an experienced group of Slicers. It was those jogs around Lavern Gibson Championship Course where he first felt the itch.
“I was like, great things happen here,” he said.
A varsity scorer as a sophomore, Gits ascended to the top of the lineup last season, when the Slicers were hampered by injuries.
“I still wasn’t working to my true potential,” he said.
During track, Gits watched Adam Gasaway blossom in the 800 and found inspiration.
“He was never close to being No. 1 on the team in cross and I was always beating him,” Gits said. “To see him killing it, putting in the work to be very good, I said, if he can do it, I can do it. I want to do exactly what he did, maybe even a little harder. Going into my senior year, it was time to grow up. I was motivated every day of the summer.”
Tasked by Slater with assuming more responsibility for workouts, Gits stayed on point, investing more time and effort than ever. The results showed during a summer mile trial, where Gits posted a 4:35, a personal best by 11 seconds.
“I was like, whoa, something good’s happening,” Gits said. “I just ran to run (before). It was something I never tried to do 100 percent. I was just part of the team. This season made me an actual runner. Running’s definitely one of my passions. It wasn’t before. I put it ahead of most everything.”
Slater’s work was to catch the mental side up with the physical side.
“That was off pure base,” Slater said of the trial. “I’m thinking, that’s the real deal, he’s in great position here. I put it in his ear, there’s no reason why you can’t stick up with (the leaders), hey, this is legit, you’re rolling now, let’s keep it going. Every guy has to go through the time when they decide they belong. It’s just getting them to believe.”
Gits showed his mettle in his first race, finishing second at Kesling Park to Crown Point’s Geno Christofanelli in the Jack Bransford Classic.
“I didn’t see myself being where I am, then staying with (Lake Central’s) Isaac (Beatty), I was like, yeah, I belong up here,” Gits said. “Now I’m getting to know my competition. I’d never done that in years past. I’m eating better. Now I watch all these races (on YouTube), all these great guys. I know who I can beat, who I beat before, who I think I can beat. I’m definitely not afraid of anyone I see. It’s knowing where I want to be and trying my best to get there.”
One sub-par performance at Lake Central followed, but Gits used it as incentive for the rest of the season.
“I credit that for doing good in all of my other races,” he said. “One of my main goals was to get to state, maybe a sub-16 time, finish (top) 20 every meet. I didn’t realize I would be getting like top three almost every single meet. I definitely want to get top 40 at state, which is something I didn’t think I could ever do.”
In 1954, Jack Gits was the captain of Notre Dame’s cross country team, and placed 43rd at nationals. He passed away last year, but remains an inspiration for his grandson, a solid student who looks to continue running in college.
“I think he found it really cool that I ran,” Gits said. “He was super stoked whenever he heard I ran a good time. I think he would be proud.”