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State champion and Gatorade Player of the Year

Humans of the Hawk Nest: Junior Ethan Zuber
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Travis Squires
TCA Titans runner Mathew Edwards (left) and Ankeny Hawks runner Ethan Zuber (right) leading the Boys Gold race at the 2023 Rim Rock Invitational meet. Zuber took first place.

Ankeny High School’s very own junior Ethan Zuber has grown one of the most commanding records in cross-country history including Class 4-A state champion, Rim Rock Champion, and more recently, Gatorade Player of the Year.

Zuber won seven of 10 races he entered and ended with an inspiring personal record of 15:07.

“I think about winning,” Zuber said. “I think about all the training I did to get there and to win, and I just know that every race is going to come down to who wants to hurt more. There is no avoiding that outcome of the race, and if you are willing to hurt more, you are going win the race.”

Within the past two years, Zuber has consistently been a top scorer for Ankeny’s cross country and track team. Winning a number of meets and breaking records, Zuber has dedicated himself to running and has transformed his mind and way of life to suit that of an elite-level runner. In addition to this already prestigious title, Zuber has also won the Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year award. Each year, Gatorade recognizes one athlete from each state and names national athletes for academic and athletic excellence. Along with recognition, this award has presented Zuber with a grant that he can donate to a social impact partner of his choice.

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Zuber was born and raised in California with his two brothers, freshman Jon Zuber and senior Jordan Zuber.

“I think that having two brothers led to competition in everything we did. We would ride bikes to school and the competition would be who could bike up the hill the fastest,” Zuber said, “Everything would become a competition.”

Throughout his childhood, Zuber did not find an immediate passion in running and focused on other sports that he found more familiar.

“Well the sport out in California is soccer, so I played a lot of soccer,” Zuber said. “I was not good at actually hitting the ball or anything, I was just good at the running part of it, so maybe that was my first sign.”

Zuber moved to Ankeny during his eighth-grade year, during which he did not go out for cross country, but joined up for track in the spring. Despite his inexperience, he found a natural talent for running, which caught the attention of Jon Lindaman, the Ankeny cross country head coach.

“I heard the eighth-grade coaches talking about this kid’s toughness. His times were good, but they weren’t spectacular, Lindaman said. “They just said he was really tough, so I was excited.” 

Throughout the year, Lindaman kept in contact with E. Zuber and convinced him to go out for cross country.

“His freshman year we never really saw what he was capable of because he was always battling injuries,” Lindaman said.

That same year Zuber competed on the track team again, this time bringing faster times to the table, even qualifying for state.

“He was on our medley relay that qualified for the state meet,” Lindaman said. “He ran an okay time, nothing great, but the head coach subbed him out at the state meet, which really lit a fire under him. He still tells me to this day how embarrassing that was.”

With this extra motivation, and a new year approaching, Zuber stepped it up his sophomore year.

“As a sophomore, we still had some injuries we were dealing with as well, but obviously he had a pretty good mentor in Levi Hill, and we started to see what he could do,” Lindaman said. Hill was an Ankeny senior at the time holding the team’s top varsity spot, and a personal record of 15:40.

Now that Zuber was in a better position injury-wise, he had to commit fully to this sport, and make sacrifices.

“In the summer he would come and run, but he still wasn’t terribly dedicated. I remember there were a couple days where he would show up in sweats when it was 110 degrees because he wanted to lose weight and look good,” Lindaman said. “He was all worried about how he looked. Having big muscles and having veins and this and that and I said, ‘a lot more people are going to notice if you win races than about how you look in the weight room.’”

With a full summer of training with Hill and the coach’s belief in him, Zuber ran the first meet of his sophomore year at Des Moines Area Community College, Ankeny’s home course. Zuber ran a strong time of 16:10 and won first for Ankeny in the 9/10 division.

“We ran our first meet at DMACC, and I put up a really good time, and I think that’s when I decided this is something I should take a lot more seriously,” Zuber said.

With Zuber’s stronger mindset, he steadily improved through his Ssphomore season, ending with a personal record of 15:42. His drive continued into his junior year where he found new competition and companionship in Ike Smith, an up-and-coming sophomore on the team, who experienced major success his first year holding an impressive freshman personal record of 16:44.

“I think last year what I had with Levi Hill pushing me every day, picked up this year again with Ike Smith,” said Zuber. “And it went beyond just running hard workouts and trying to edge each other out in practice. It went to who can eat better, who can sleep better, who can recover better, and who can get done with the workout still standing, not panting, and tell the other one ‘that’s light work.’”

This dynamic between Zuber and Smith benefited the both of them.

“I ate a lot better this year because Ike Smith really forced me to,” Zuber said. “Wake up, three eggs, a glass of water or milk, two pieces of peanut butter toast. Lunch is two pieces of chicken and a plate of rice, and dinner is the same thing as lunch.”

Smith made major improvements throughout the season too cementing him as the fastest Ankeny sophomore in history, even faster than Zuber was his sophomore year. Smith even aspires to beat Zuber, which has created a friendly rivalry between the two.

“Competing with him definitely made me a stronger runner. Competition is huge in this sport,” Smith said. “Next year it’ll be me and him up there for races, and I think that’ll push me to try and edge him out during races.”

When it came to lifting, Zuber took the coach’s advice and went from lifting with the purpose of gaining mass to simply preventing injury. During the summer, Zuber lifts two or three times a week, and he slowly brings that number down, eventually to zero times a week during championship racing season.

“It’s super light stuff, just a little here and there, just to make sure everything is strong enough not to get injured running miles,” Zuber said.

But what many believe is second most important to the miles, is recovery and injury prevention, which is something Zuber has dedicated a lot of his time to.

“One thing that changed a lot from last year is strengthening all the weak points that have led to injury in the past years,” Zuber said. “So this year it was just every day about an hour of calf, hip, and hamstring strength. And I stretched and rolled out 10 minutes each after every practice. …a lot of ice baths and a lot of recovery, just to make sure everything was healthy and ready to go come the end of the season.”

Something that sets Zuber apart from others is the number of miles he is running. Compared to many other state-level runners, he is not running a huge amount, which coach Lindaman sees as a good sign.

“He does not have a lot of mileage on him right now,” Lindaman said. “If there are high school kids that are running 80-90 mile weeks, there’s not a lot of room for them to grow anymore, they are kind of maxed out. And he’s only running like 45-mile weeks, so there’s a lot of room for him to grow once he starts extending that.”

Zuber, Smith, and the rest of the team made major improvements throughout the year 2023, and by the end of the season, they earned Ankeny a third-place ranking at state. Smith ended the season with a PR of 15:40 and Zuber with a PR of 15:07. Of course a lot of this success is due to Zuber’s training, but really what sets Zuber apart from every other runner in the state is his mindset.

“He’s got stuff that most kids don’t have,” Lindaman said. “It is something you can not teach or you can not coach. It’s that drive and his competitive side is off the charts. He just refuses to get beat.”

Zuber has advice for other runners, which he thinks about and follows throughout the season.

“Other people’s times and what they do does not really matter. You are really just racing yourself every time you go out and run,” Zuber said. “You’re not running because it’s fun or because you’re good at it. You are running because it is hard and it sucks, and it feels good to do something that is hard and that sucks and to do it at your best.”

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About the Contributor
Julius Wiegand, Staff Reporter
Julius Wiegand is a junior at Ankeny High School. He runs in cross country, track, and is a member of Ankeny Singers, and Ankeny's varisty show choir, Visual Adrenaline. He plans to attend a four year university after high school. Julius enjoys playing guitar, lifting weights, listening to music, and spending time with friends and family.
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