SIDNEY — As a high schooler, Aaron Dinzeo’s training runs took him through the streets of Sidney. As he pounded the pavement around town — sometimes stopping for a courtesy drink of water at Chilly Jilly’s on sweltering summer days — Dinzeo never imagined how far running would actually take him.
The 2010 Sidney High School valedictorian found his way — among his handful of stops — to California University of Pennsylvania (he’s the school record holder in the 5000-meter and 10,000-meter runs), Colorado to train and now Providence, R.I., as part of the NE Distance running program.
But no matter where his journey takes him all roads lead back to Sidney. That’s where the 27-year-old Dinzeo found himself Friday night. He was recognized after the first quarter of Sidney’s football game with Fairborn.
“It’s good when I can get back. It seems few and far between sometimes but when I do come back it’s always a good thing,” he said. “It always feels like I’m grounded in a good way. I feel centered. Home does that for some people.”
Dinzeo, the son of Mark Dinzeo and Jeff and Janice Booth, started running after getting cut from the seventh grade basketball team. He quickly established himself as an up-and-comer in cross country and track. It was when the Miami Valley Track Club encouraged him to compete for a spot on their team — and attempt to qualify for the USTAF junior nationals — that his career really took off.
“I had never done anything particularly interesting athletically and this seemed to have some prestige to it,” Dinzeo said. “That was the first time I was doing something and it felt important. As a 13-year old it changed my whole perspective on my athleticism. I thought I was going to be a football player. I was wrong.”
These days Dinzeo competes with NE Distance, based in New England. The non-profit organization offers top-level track athletes training assistance in return for promoting exercise and other programs for underprivileged youth. Dinzeo works with after-school programs, provides mentorship, coaching and serves as a positive role model. Many of the students Dinzeo works with have had their school athletic programs cut or are underfunded.
“These programs wouldn’t exist if we didn’t do them,” he said. “Our organization was able to fill a niche. It’s good for us to be able to help communities in (the Providence) area.”
The message Dinzeo tell his Providence runners is similar to the one he delivered to Sidney’s cross country team on Monday.
“The main thing I was trying to get at is you have to take a chance. Anything you like doing, it doesn’t have to be running, but give yourself a chance to be successful,” Dinzeo said. “Figure out what the variables are you need to control to allow yourself to be successful and pursue that.
“When I was leaving college I knew I wanted to continue running. I had lofty goals and I wanted to make sure I was putting myself in a good position to chase those goals.”
Among his influences, Dinzeo credits Sidney high school cross country coach Erica Turner, track coaches Chris Zink and Jason McGarrahan as well as Chad Mitchell in helping develop his love for running.
“I always felt really great about the coaching staff I had around me in Sidney,” Dinzeo said. “Those people really helped my life. When I was choosing college another big influence was to feel like I had a good relationship with a coach. I knew they were going to be very influential on me, whether I wanted them to be or not.
“Running can feel very isolated at times. You get out in a race and it starts to bad, you can lose sight of what’s important when you’ve got two miles or four miles to go … or in my case 20 miles to go in a marathon. I think the big thing to remember is you’re never alone. There’s a support system around you, whether they are physically there or not. There are people that want to see you succeed. The positive energy you can draw from that can really propel you far beyond what you think ever think you’re capable of doing. The biggest driving force in my running career is having good people in my corner.”
Dinzeo is currently in pursuit of qualifying for the marathon at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials held Feb. 29 in Atlanta, Ga. He needs to finish a 26.2-mile race in under 2 hours, 19 minutes to qualify. He makes his attempt at the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., on Dec. 8.
He ran a tune-up race at the Minster Oktoberfest 10K Classic on Saturday. He finished fifth overall in 29:36.1. That’s a pace of 4:46 per mile.
And depending how the marathon qualifying goes, Dinzeo wants to make a run at the Olympic Trials 10K in Eugene, Ore., in June. The qualifying standard is 28:00.
“I really came to love running in Sidney. That’s where the whole journey started for me,” Dinzeo said. “ … It’s very much home in a lot of ways for me even though I (don’t live in Sidney). It’s always been a place I can come back to.”