TEWKSBURY – Alek Cranston is a pretty impressive young adult. Mature beyond his years, the Tewksbury Memorial High School senior is striving to be the valedictorian of the 2022 Class, while he has aspirations of studying mechanical engineering and is looking at colleges such as Cornell, UPenn, UVM and his reach school is Princeton.
As an athlete, in his early days at the school, he played some soccer and then was extremely good in tennis, arguably one of the better players the program has ever had. In 2019 as a freshman, he played No. 1 singles for the team that reached the state tournament, finishing 8-7 overall, which came after a 3-13 record the year before when he was in middle school.
After his sophomore season, he elected to leave soccer and join the cross-country team. And before last spring, he decided to put the tennis racquet away because he wanted to join the outdoor track team instead. While he's not one of the best runners in the league in either sport, he doesn't care. All he knows is he's participating in running, a sport that he truly has become his passion.
“Obviously I enjoy (running) more (than soccer and tennis) but that's mainly because I feel like when it comes to performance and it's only on you with team sports, even tennis, it's just different,” he said. “Plus, running is really good for you. It's nice to get into a routine and to be able to put in the work every day. You don't have to do run every day but it's nice to do it. I think that's a big part of who am I, the work ethic that I have.”
His work ethic — in everything he does — is really impeccable.
“I know Alek is a former soccer and a former phenomenal tennis guy, but he's found his love with running. He's a really hard working kid in both the classroom and athletics. He gets straight A's, he's one of the top students in the school and he's going to college and so absolutely tremendous things academically,” said cross-country coach Peter Fortunato. “He's a hard worker and that's the reason why I believe that he has fallen in love with this sport because with running you're going to get whatever you put in. I think he loves that challenge and that's part of the reason why he loves being here and loves being with the group. He's just a really nice kid. And regardless of what this past summer looked like in terms of the (team's off-season training) goes, I can always say that we always have the best kids that the school can offer and he represents the team better than anybody.”
This past summer, many members of the cross-country team didn't fulfill the usual off-season requirements in terms of running and training. Cranston did.
“I pretty much ran every day. I went to the XC Project Camp that Coach (Fred) Doyle ran and I also went to the Stow Running Camp in Vermont,” he said. “I just tried to do everything that I could do to get better. I'm definitely not the fastest one here as that goes to Nick Alvarado. I just put the work in and hopefully it will pay off. I would say I did maybe 300 miles.”
The 300 miles will certainly help Cranston improve his 5K time throughout this fall season, but that's not even close to his No. 1 goal.
“My number one priority is team culture,” he said. “It's hard to do that when half of the team is new, especially younger so what I'm going to try to do is when kids come down here, that this is their best part of their day. If I can do that, I'll be more than happy with that, than anything else. Performance, obviously that is important, but right now the culture is number one for me,” he said.
The No. 1 goals don't stop there.
“The (school hasn't) done (class rankings) yet, but my goal is to be valedictorian. I'm going to work my butt off to reach that goal. I'm taking five AP classes this year. I took four last year and that was a lot, so I want the challenge. I want to be number one,” he said.
While he strives for being No. 1 in the classroom, he relinquished that role of being No. 1 from the tennis courts.
“My mom (Lana) is the reason why I got into tennis. She immigrated from the Ukraine when she was 17 back in 1992 after the Soviet Union collapsed. She played tennis like six times a day ever since she was little. She was huge into it; she was really good. She played at UMass (Amherst) and got a scholarship from it,” he said while noting that his father Jim was a competitive ski racer and his son follows suit. “She got me into it. I used to play and I got lessons and that's how I became good at it. I'm no where near as good as the kids you would see from Andover. Tewksbury's not a big tennis town.
“It was pretty hard (to leave tennis). I wasn't as passionate with tennis as I was to running. I remember freshmen year I started indoor track and my JV soccer coach told me not to do distance running because what happened would happen and I did make the change from soccer to cross-country. Originally, I was a sprinter and I switched to distance and I just feel in love with it. Everything that comes with the sport – even eating, sending pictures to each other of what we're having. We all just try to push each other. The kids who come here are just all invested in that so that makes it a really nice environment.”
While he is trying to keep that positive environment with the cross-country team, he says that back home, it's that way thanks to his only sibling, younger sister Anya.
“She's more energetic and outgoing and I'm more laid-back,” he said with a laugh. “It's always been like that ever since we were little. We kind of just do our own thing but we are pretty close. It's good growing up with her. She's the one I go to if I need to talk about something.”
Some of the talk over the next few months is how to help a young and inexperienced cross-country team get through a season facing some of the best teams in the state.
“Alek will be in our mix and be anywhere from our second to fourth finisher. I've had honest conversations and he knows that if he's our second guy, we might be in a little bit of trouble. He's rooting for guys to improve and he wants the other guys to improve beyond him so they can help the team,” said Fortunato.