Cinnaminson High School junior Austin Gabay was out on the track preparing for what is perhaps the most important month of his high school career when the kindergarten-aged son of Pirates coach Dan Fourney appeared with some temptation: a milkshake.
“You want some?” the boy asked.
Gabay shook his head.
“If you want to be a good runner,” Gabay explained, “you can’t eat stuff like that.”
Gabay still has another high school season but he has already graduated from good to great runner this year.
The 17-year-old won the 1600 and was on the winning 4X800 team at the Burlington County Championships and, within the last two weeks, he PR’d twice in the span of three days in the 800. Gabay ran a 1:54.73 at the Haddonfield Distance Night for the second-fastest time in school history.
Gabay, who gave up wrestling this year for winter track, appears to be peaking at just the right time with states and Meet of Champions around the corner.
“Now he’s a full, year-round runner,” Fourney said. “And that’s going to put him on the next level. That was the hope, and that’s what’s happening. I think he’s going to continue to get better and better now that he’s running year-round. It’s kind of scary to see what’s going to happen.”
Gabay spoke with South Jersey Sports Weekly a day after the Haddonfield meet.
Burlington County Open 4×800 champions! Gabe St. Elien 2:03.7, Chad Howard 2:02.0, Zack Walton 2:06.8, Austin Gabay 1:55.1=8:08. pic.twitter.com/xrAP2jEFM8
— Cinn XC/T&F (@CinnXCandTF) May 11, 2019
South Jersey Sports Weekly: When did distance running become your top sport?
Austin Gabay: Probably my second year of running, so, fifth grade.
SJSW: How did you get into the sport?
Gabay: [Laughs] So we have like a Field Day at elementary school and in third grade I came in third or fourth when we ran around the track. And I was like, ‘I never want to lose again.’ I wanted to join a track team and I did.
SJSW: That’s a good story. I saw you’ve run a PR twice in the last week (in the 800). How do you describe getting better with every race, it must be an exhilarating feeling?
Gabay: It really is. I mean, I hadn’t raced hard early in the season so I was expecting my times to drop low, but I mean, twice in a week, or twice in three days, I blew myself away with that, I wasn’t expecting that at all.
SJSW: You also had a pretty good season in Cross Country. What would you consider your top accomplishment of everything you’ve done in high school so far?
Gabay: The 1:54 is impressive, but the 4:17 sophomore year in the 1600 was probably my most accomplished (feat).
SJSW: What do you want to accomplish before you graduate next year?
Gabay: Obviously I want to get all three (school) records, in the 800, the mile and the two mile. The county records, too. I got the sophomore mile county record. So getting some of the county ones would be nice. I just want to run fast times and get myself out there.
SJSW: Who is your favorite person to compete against?
Gabay: The Haddonfield kids. And Cherokee.
SJSW: Assuming you want to run in college?
Gabay: Of course. I’m looking at a couple right now.
SJSW: Do you have a dream school or two?
Gabay: Yeah, right now Duke and Yale are my top two.
SJSW: What’s your favorite subject in school?
Gabay: Chem. I love Chem. I have a great teacher in AP (Chemistry) this year.
SJSW: That was going to be my next question, do you have a favorite teacher?
Gabay: Mr. (Matthew) Perekupka.
SJSW: Who would you consider the best track athlete in South Jersey?
Gabay: Best athlete? Hmm. Obviously I’d consider myself up there, having a wide range definitely helps. Stone Caraccio from Kingsway is definitely up there, too, and so is Ethan Wechsler (of Cherokee).
SJSW: How about best athlete at Cinnaminson? And it can be any sport.
Gabay: Athlete at Cinnaminson. Right now?
SJSW: OK, I like that answer. You need to have confidence to be a good athlete.
Do you have any role models?
Gabay: My track coach when I was younger. Coach (Jim) Johnson. He’s always keeping me humble, telling me what to do and what not to do, certain things that will help me in the long run.
SJSW: Any pro athletes or teams you like to watch?
Gabay: Yeah, I like watching the pro athletes run, like Craig Engels and Matt Centrowitz.
SJSW: Do you have nay pre-race rituals or superstitions?
Gabay: Yeah, I always wear my pineapple socks. I have to get a new pair because my other ones are ripped.
SJSW: We’re at the state championships. There’s a medal ceremony and you get to pick the song you come out to when you collect your medal. What are you walking out to?
Gabay: [Laughs] “Welcome to the Jungle.” Definitely.
SJSW: Guns and Roses? Are you a classic rock guy?
Gabay: Not really. But it’s one of my warm-up songs on my playlist.
SJSW: How much fun are you having right now, going through what you’re going through as a junior and really coming into your own in your sport?
Gabay: It’s the best. It’s a really great feeling. Doing what I love and knowing – or hoping – I’m going to be doing it for four more years (after high school), it’s a great feeling.