As the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked students in the senior class at Collingswood High School, Nhat Do and Tyler Scheick have plenty of options when it comes to the next chapter of their lives. The choices are almost limitless and so are the offers.
Scheick and Do have listened, thought and chosen their paths. Both students are ready to serve.
The Panthers cross-country teammates are enlisting in the U.S. military. Do attended a summer workshop at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he has since applied. Scheick is applying to the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, with a Marine option. He has the potential of receiving a full scholarship to college and an officer commission in the Corps after graduation.
For both, the decision was about giving back to a country that they feel has provided so much to them.
“I am just so glad that this country gave me the opportunity to let me be here and pursue whatever I want,” said Do, who was born in Vietnam
and came to America when he was 11.
“I think going into the military is a chance to give back to this country and serve it,” he said.
Scheick also views America as the land of opportunity and believes it is his obligation to give what he can to keep it that way.
“There are a lot of things that you see everyday in America, like people going from being nothing to being rock stars and celebrities,” Scheick said.
“This is the greatest place on earth...and I feel like there is no reason I shouldn’t do something for this country," he said.
While competing in cross-country and training for the military may not exactly be parallels, there is something to be said about the mental approach to both. It takes an inner strength to complete some of the grueling courses around South Jersey, and mental toughness is a prerequisite of service.
“When you are doing something like this, you just can’t have limits,” said Scheick.
“You can’t let your brain tell you that there is something you can’t do. If you are out there in the middle of God knows where, completely alone, what are you going to do, sit there and cry? You have to tough it out and go through with it.”
“It’s just about pushing yourself,” added Do. “There’s been many times when I wanted to give up, and I just have to keep telling myself to keep going and get across that finish line.”
One of the biggest challenges for Do and Scheik has been to stop thinking so much during races. Their intellects have led them to the top of their senior class, but running is often about freeing the mind and letting body mechanics take over.
“I like to think through everything, but out here I have to flip my brain on auto pilot and just go with it,” Scheick said.
Collingswood cross-country coach Lisa Hall has been thrilled with the leadership she has seen from her two senior runners, and is confident both will thrive whatever their post-graduation plans.
But then, she's married to a former Marine.
“They are two of my most dedicated guys on the team,” said Hall. “Their hard work shows not only in sports, but also academically. Obviously, they know what it takes to dedicate themselves to something, whether it is academics or sports.
“They are not my No. 1 or no.2 runners, but they are the best leaders. When I send 16 kids out to the woods, they are the ones making sure that all 16 come back. I have high hopes for them.”
Collingswood is not expected to be a major cross-country player in the Colonial Conference and that is fine for Hall. Her goal is for her team to continue to develop.
Scheick and Do are more than happy to set an example for the younger runners.
“I’m really happy that there are a lot of middle school kids out," said Do. "Our job is to teach them to love the sport. We want to build this up to be a team that can compete with other schools.”
As a point of inspiration, Scheick referenced another small school in the Colonial Conference that is thriving in the sport.
“Five miles away you have Haddon Township and they have the same
number of kids as we do in school and they go on to win the state championship,” Scheick said. “We want to help these kids get to that level.”
And when they are finished serving the teammates, they will turn their focus to the country.