Twelve months ago, Mason Gatewood had personal best times of 17:45 at both Bowdoin Park and Sunken Meadow State Park to go along with a 13:29 at Van Cortlandt Park. Not many people outside of Suffolk County knew much about the new St. Anthony's transfer student.
Fast-forward a year, and the Friars senior is a household name. After taking official visits to Stanford, Georgetown, Michigan, and Columbia, Gatewood has committed to run both cross country and track & field at the University of Pennsylvania. An astronomical rise in a very short period of time.
Gatewood has become accustomed to moving and not staying places for long periods of time. Some moves have been shorter distances than others. Some, easier transitions than others.
The common theme in each of those has been the same. Success.
Whether it has been on the track, the soccer field, or in the classroom, Gatewood has found success. When it comes to distances, you could be referencing the moves from Georgia to Texas to Colorado to Kentucky to New York. Living in five states in seventeen years. Or you could be referencing race distances ranging from the 600-meters to the 5K.
Regardless of the challenges faced, Gatewood has met them all head on.
"He's a pretty determined kid," St. Anthony's coach Tim Dearie said.
That determination is one of the things that led him to St. Anthony's and in particular, to running cross country at St. Anthony's.
After attending Lexington Catholic High School in Kentucky for his first two years of high school, Gatewood moved to Long Island due to his mother's job, when she accepted the position to be the President of Adelphi University.
The original plan was for Gatewood to attend Garden City High School. However, one of the coaches at Lexington Catholic had cousins that swam at St. Anthony's and enjoyed their experience there. The coach suggested Mason look into the school. Once he visited the school, he decided that is where he wanted to be. It could not have worked out better for both athlete and team.
Now the soccer player and track athlete made his second key choice. He gave up soccer.
"I knew that I was better at running than soccer," Gatewood said. "I realized that I was really starting to enjoy running and wanted to take it seriously and knew running cross country would make me better in track."
Those results took a little bit of time to come to fruition. With the relocation of his family that summer, combined with a lack of summer training and a lack of experience, Gatewood's inaugural cross country campaign did not go as well as he had hoped.
"It was definitely a learning experience," he said. "I really didn't know what to expect, both being my first year in cross country and also my first year in New York. I was disappointed and felt like I should have made a better impact."
Gatewood talked to Dearie once the season was over to express that disappointment and the coach focused on the positive with his new athlete. Gatewood took that conversation and ran with it, beginning to put his name on the map that winter.
"I remember watching him run a 200 on the track in the middle of cross country season and you realized he had the speed and could be very good," Dearie said.
How good? There was nothing up to that period in time that would point in the direction things have gone. But that changed quickly.
"During the indoor season, he was running a 4x800 and he made so many good decisions during the race," Dearie said. "He was such a savvy runner. He was doing what you wanted him to do before you could even tell him."
Gatewood had run 1:59 his sophomore year in Kentucky, but that was nothing compared to what was beginning to emerge. The times kept dropping, 1:56, 1:55... Then he dropped a 1:53 when anchoring the 4x800.
"That was another step, but I still knew the mile was where he was going to be," Dearie said. "I just kept telling him to not get wrapped up in the 800, that he could be a really good miler."
"I remember him (Dearie) telling me after that that he thought I could run 4:12 and 1:52 by the end of the spring," Gatewood said. "I was like 'yeah right coach!'".
So he finally got to run his first mile as a Friar at his league championship. He placed fourth. In 4:36.62.
Admittedly, Gatewood said the mile took a little transitioning to, sometimes questioning whether he could go with certain packs or not.
"It took a few races to get it under my belt and figure out pacing," he said. "Once I got used to it, I really liked it."
Gatewood's focus also started to change. Instead of focusing on times, the focus shifted to winning races and letting the times come. He started believing in himself, getting into positions throughout the race that left him in position to strike at the right time.
At the State Championship, the junior had a personal best of 4:18 for 1600-meters, but there he was in the thick of the race. With a large pack entering the last lap, it was a kicker's race. And as people in the crowd started talking about who was going to win, one Suffolk county coach said "watch out for the St. Anthony's kid with the way he's been racing."
He was beginning to make his mark, running 4:13.84 that day to place third and following up that performance the following week at New Balance Nationals with his true breakthrough weekend. He won his heat in the Emerging Elite 800-meters, running 1:52.92 to place third overall and used his savvy racing and finishing kick to win the Emerging Elite Mile in 4:12.87.
"It isn't just the times he runs, it's the way he runs them," Dearie said. "Even after those races, it looked like he had something left in him. He recovers faster than any kid I've ever coached."
"He's an extraordinary kid, a once in a lifetime kid."
So as the spring season came to a close, Gatewood had run the 4:12 and 1:52 he had laughed at halfway through the winter season.
"He's a genius," Gatewood said about his coach. "He's got such a track mind."
Having successfully made the transition from the 800 to the mile, it was time to see if those improvements would translate to cross country success.
"I anticipated there would be a drop in the times because of the spring season and the difference in the summer," he said. "I never would have expected how much."
The combination of 'genius', determination, and ability, with a summer of training as well, has paid off, and then some this season.
He opened his season with a smooth victory, running a 13:04 at Van Cortlandt Park that he said felt easy, to win the Regis Invitational. He followed that performance up with his lone loss this season, a second place finish by a couple of tenths of a second at the Ocean State Invitational in Rhode Island. Despite the loss, it opened his eyes to where his fitness and ability levels were at relative to last year.
"I didn't win, so it was disappointing," he said. "But I ran like two minutes faster than last year so that gave me a lot of confidence."
The senior took his vengeance out on Sunken Meadow, running a blistering 16:03 his next time out to win the St. Anthony's Invitational. He followed that up with an even better performance at Van Cortlandt Park.
"About two or three weeks before Manhattan, Coach Dearie talked to me after practice and asked me what I wanted to do at Manhattan," Gatewood said. "I said I think I can maybe put myself in the top three or so and then try and go for it. He listened and then looked at me and said 'yeah, I think you can win'."
"That was what the goal was from then on."
As has been his trademark over the past few months, Gatewood put himself into that top pack and in position to strike at the right time and on that long last straightaway took command, running 12:17 to win the prestigious Easterns States Championship.
The Sunken Meadow and Van Cortlandt performances have put him on the radar at the top of the state and among the top runners in the country as well. As the championship season approaches, he is keeping everything in perspective.
"I don't look too far into results or speed ratings or make predictions," he said. "I really just take things by feel."
"I'm trying to focus on one meet at a time."
That focus at this point is on the team, pointing at this week's CHSAA Championship at Van Cortlandt, where they always see top competition. This year, the focus is on a very complete Xavier squad.
"Intersectionals is pretty big for us as a team," Gatewood said. "We've had a rocky season in terms of things coming together so far, but we had a good race at leagues and we want to make a run at winning. Then run well at Federations as well."
Once the team season is completed, Gatewood will focus on himself. For now, team is the focus, consistently commenting on his hopes for the team over the next few weeks. As for Nationals, that will be determined in time, based both on team and individual goals.
"I definitely want to make it to a national meet, but I haven't put a whole lot of thought into that yet," Gatewood said.
Which national meet is up for debate. Dearie said that decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, but that they will do what is in his best interests. The coach is looking forward to it.
"After running 18 minutes for 5K last year, the opportunity to potentially be an All-American would be unbelievable," said Dearie.
Gatewood is just continuing to do what he does on a daily basis, coming to practice and getting to work and letting the chips fall into place. Dearie couldn't be more pleased with his young star.
""He couldn't be more coachable," he said. "If I asked him to run backwards on the track, he wouldn't ask why, he'd just say ok."