Juravich finds Rhodes to success on and off track

By Kathryn Stewart

On the very last day of the 2005 men’s cross-country season, Nick Juravich was lounging outside the Henry Crown dressed to the nines and puffing a fat cigar. While one doesn’t usually associate distance runners with smoking, that Saturday was not a typical day for either the Maroons or their captain. Juravich had just been informed that he would receive one of the most prestigious awards in academia, a mere hour after he’d learned of his teammates’ ninth-place finish at NCAAs. The freshly minted Rhodes Scholar was now one of the leaders of the best men’s cross country squad in program history.

“I found out about the team coming in ninth while I was waiting with all the other candidates for the selection committee’s decision,” Juravich said. “When I heard the news I basically jumped up and said,‘Holy shit!’ which definitely broke the somber atmosphere.”

“When we found out about Nick’s award, it was the happiest we’d been all day,” head coach Chris Hall said. “Something about hearing Nick got the Rhodes gave what we’d done at the meet more credit. It’s indescribable. I told the guys, and they all just exploded.”

Juravich told his teammates he’d be waiting for them, still in the suit he’d been wearing during his Rhodes interview. When the team pulled up in front of the field house and saw their fearless leader dressed like an investment banker and enjoying a stogie, neither Hall nor his teammates could contain their euphoria or ignore the utter absurdity of the image before them. The team devoted a nanosecond to amusement at their captain’s get-up before rushing him.

“They got back and we all just went nuts,” Juravich reminisced. “It’s times like that when it’s so great to have a team.”

The consensus among those who know Juravich best is that the history major from Amherst, Massachusetts, is one of a kind. The scholar-athlete-activist has brought a level of enthusiasm, dedication, and banter to the cross country and track teams for the past four years that still causes teammates to marvel. Juravich joined the program on the first day of orientation week and has been one of its most integral members ever since. His leadership has been a major factor in the men’s UAA and NCAA success over that period.

He played a similar role in the larger athletic community at Chicago, filling the role of president of the Order of the C.

But his impact has gone far beyond Henry Crown. Juravich has been a passionate social activist during his years at Chicago. Combining what he learned in history classes and while working for the Human Rights Program with what he saw every day during practice, his Rhodes essay described the evidence of social and economic inequality apparent during runs along Drexel Avenue.

“He was one of the first guys that I met when I joined the cross country team my freshman year,” third-year Chetan Huded said. “He was just like he is now, really energetic, passionate, dedicated, and an absolute chatterbox. The guy just won’t shut up, which is why I love running with him. Especially running on the South Side, he knows every street corner and every historic site there is.”

“Nick doesn’t do anything on a small scale or halfway,” fourth-year co-captain Pat Hogan said. “People talk about social butterflies, but I tend to think of Nick as more of a social whirlwind.”

Despite the glowing praise flowing from teammates, coaches, and Rhodes Scholarship selection committees, Juravich is notable for his modesty. He would rather rhapsodize about the pure benefits of running and competing on a team than engage in anything resembling self-congratulation. In his mind, he got back far more than he gave to the Maroons.

“I’ve been running since I was in eighth grade,” Juravich said. “I’ve never been particularly good. But it’s addictive. It keeps me balanced. If I’m having a terrible day, when nothing is going well, I can go to practice at three o’clock and just clear my mind.”

Coaches and teammates were a major influence on the captain’s success as a student, athlete, and team leader. Juravich further credits his time on the team with expanding and shaping his social and political perspective. His political views were honed and refined as a result of being exposed to the differing views and backgrounds of his fellow athletes.

“Had I not run during college, I probably would’ve hung around with other lefty activist types,” Juravich said. “Being on a team brought me into contact with people who had really different views, interests, and experiences.”

While he credits his fellow sportsmen for giving him the chance to develop as a student and a member of the University community during long runs, intense workouts, and travel time to away meets, Juravich saves his highest praise for Hall.

“He’s a great coach and an incredible guy,” Juravich said. “He’s extremely attentive to training and to college life. He’s incredibly understanding, and you know he cares. He’s had a lot of difficult athletes over the years, but he’s been able to keep them. There are runners who come in injured as freshmen who cross train and do rehab and stay on the team for two and three years until they’re well enough to compete.”

The acclaim goes both ways. Hall views Juravich as the best example of a college athlete, able to compete at the highest level possible without making academic or social sacrifices.

“Nick has been able to have his cake and eat it too,” Hall said. “He works incredibly hard. Everything he’s accomplished is a testament to his internal fortitude. He’s a team leader, but he’s obviously an excellent student and has full social life. No one who’s ever met Nick Juravich would call the University a place where fun comes to die. He’s done it all.”

Occupying the ninth spot during the cross-country season and scoring a mere smattering of points at track meets during his college career, Juravich has never been the top contributor on any team. Still, his drive has continually impressed his teammates, who he in turn credits with pushing him in competition and practice.

“The great thing about running with the guys I train with is that they’re always constantly pushing up,” Juravich said. “When the second-to-last runner on the team knows that the last runner is working his hardest, the second-to-last runner has to push himself as hard as he can.”

Hall attributes a large part of the men’s team success to Juravich’s dedication to teamwork and sportsmanship. Similarly, both Huded and Hogan eagerly attest to Juravich’s infectious work ethic and enthusiasm.

“I think a lot of guys on the team, including myself, look up to Nick as a runner,” Huded said. “He’s really worked hard and overcome a number of setbacks to get where he is and he’s constantly trying to get better. In seven years of running, he’s the best teammate I’ve had. He’s always the one getting people fired up before a big race or tough workout.”

“Nick’s a pretty passionate guy generally, and this characteristic certainly manifests itself in the daily dedication and commitment he brings to running,” Hogan said. “No one has worked harder or been more committed to the team over the last four years, and Nick has achieved significant personal gains as an athlete.”

Juravich’s legacy at the University won’t be restricted to any particular area. Teammates, coaches, and friends tend to praise Nick for everything from his dedication to athletics, his team, politics, human rights, his encyclopedic knowledge of the area, his pluck, and his enthusiasm for nearly everything he does.

“I guess what impresses me most about Nick is his firm commitment to his ideals,” Hogan said. “The fact that he really does genuinely stand for human rights and is concerned about human dignity is borne out by his actions as well as words.”

“He’s a great guy to be around,” Huded said. “He does everything with a lot of enthusiasm, whether it’s running, studying, cooking dinner, or tying his shoes.”

Thanks to the generous legacy of Cecil J. Rhodes, Juravich will head to Oxford next fall to pursue a masters of philosophy in social and economic history and eventually a doctorate in American History. He plans to continue running with Oxford’s club team. Yet his attitude in the wake of receiving one of the highest honors in academia is consistent with how his teammates portray him: good natured, grateful, and extremely humble.

“I am, of course, extremely honored. I’m very thankful and feel really blessed,” Juravich said. “But sometimes it does feel a little silly. I’ve always thought of this University as a community of equals. Everyone I know will be doing great things, whether it’s Teach for America or going to graduate school or directly into the workforce.”

The 2006 track-and-field season is winding down and graduation is around the corner. In a few weeks, Juravich will take his ceremonial walk across the stage, and the men’s cross country and track and field programs, athletic department, Human Rights Program, and South Side will lose an important leader and advocate. But, according to Juravich, Chicago is intended to be a community of outstanding individuals. Someone with a comparable amount of passion, energy, and chatter is likely waiting to fill his shoes.