At age 11, she's already a 5K running champ. Now she's got her sights set on Olympic glory

Sawyer Nicholson, 11, loves to run. She says she gets support from family, friends, and even competitors in her pursuit of faster and faster times. (Laura Pedersen/CBC - image credit)
Sawyer Nicholson, 11, loves to run. She says she gets support from family, friends, and even competitors in her pursuit of faster and faster times. (Laura Pedersen/CBC - image credit)

Like most 11-year-olds, Sawyer Nicholson has hobbies. She likes to play soccer, hang out with her friends, and read and write stories.

But in between her other commitments, Nicholson makes sure she fits in time for a few five-kilometre runs each week. It's a practice that's helped her win multiple first-place medals in adult competitions.

"I actually was never expecting to join the track team or do any races," said Nicholson. "I was just expecting to like, go for runs."

With a time of 18 minutes, 55 seconds, the Stouffville girl earned the top spot among all female runners — and a stunning third place among all 376 participants — at the Niagara Falls International Marathon in October. That win was on top of the first place medal for females she got at the Oasis Zoo Run the month before.

Her career in running doesn't stop there. She hopes to keep up the pace at a potential 5K run in Ottawa next spring.

Family inspired by Sawyer's tenacity

Her natural speed and dedication to improving is something that awes her family.

"She's usually the smallest athlete in any race or soccer match," said her father, Levi Nicholson. "She's just learned that she has to fight, and the results speak for themselves."

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Levi says he first got his daughter into running as a way to keep her active when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and postponed activities like soccer. At the start of it, he says she wasn't too enthused during their routine runs.

"Now I strictly just ride my bike with her cause I just can't keep up," said Levi.

Nicholson says she's inspired by American long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine and Canadian soccer player Jessie Fleming, who Nicholson says set the record for the 1,500-metre run for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations track and field championships when she was a high school student.

She hopes her ventures in running and soccer can someday land her a scholarship at a U.S. university, or even earn her a spot at the summer Olympics or track and field world championships.

"I love making it on the podium. I like winning medals and dropping my times," said Nicholson.