Petrulevich aims for SU record

When Syracuse senior runner Valerij Petrulevich left his native Lithuania to enroll at Syracuse in 2003, he spoke decent English.

After more than two years in the United States, he speaks more smoothly and clearly, especially when discussing the Big East Indoor Championships, hosted by the Carrier Dome on Saturday and Sunday.

‘I’m ready to go,’ he said. ‘I really look to finish at least in the top three. My ultimate goal is first. I really believe I’m going to break the (SU 800 meter) record. I feel it.’

Petrulevich, or ‘VP’ as he is called by his teammates and coaches, holds the current SU indoor 800-meter record with a time of 1:52.07, set in the 2004 conference indoor championship.

Petrulevich was part of another record-setting performance on Jan. 15 at Penn State, running the 800-meter leg of the distance medley relay. The four-runner race is composed of a 1200-meter leg, followed by a 400-meter leg, then an 800-meter leg and completed with a one-mile leg. The team, including sophomore Matt Lawson and juniors Chris Muldoon and Craig Stivala, not only finished in first with a time of 9:58.07, but also shattered a 15-year-old Syracuse record.

‘[In the] DMR, he probably ran the fastest he’s ever run,’ said SU distance coach Jay Hartshorn.

But without his hard work, his record-setting performances would be unlikely. Hartshorn said Petrulevich will do anything to improve.

‘Every day he wants to lift more and do more speed-work,’ Hartshorn said.

Although the Lithuanian feels blessed with natural speed, it doesn’t mean he slacks off.

It takes so much work that sometimes after workouts he can’t see straight. Even during the cool-down at the end of practice, Petrulevich pushes himself during stretching, push-ups and sit-ups.

‘I know he is the most disciplined athlete on the team,’ said sophomore teammate Charles Mayaka.

During this year’s winter break, Petrulevich opened his apartment to Mayaka, a distance runner. The two were the only runners who did not go home during the break, so they trained together. Mayaka said running with the speedy Petrulevich helped to improve his own times.

Running has not always been part of Petrulevich’s life. He tried many different sports in Lithuania, from soccer to volleyball and even chess.

‘I was decent in every sport, but I wanted to be a champion,’ Petrulevich said.

When Petrulevich was in eighth grade, his physical education teacher asked him if he wanted to run. He was a fast learner and immediately started winning 200-meter races.

Petrulevich came to Syracuse from Lithuania in January 2003. When the opportunity of moving to the United States came, he didn’t think twice. He moved into an apartment with two teammates, leaving his family behind in Lithuania. The prospect of coming to the United States helped his decision.

‘The conditions for sports are much better and the level of education is higher,’ Petrulevich said. ‘There was no reason not to come (to the United States).’

He was mainly a 400-meter sprinter, yet Hartshorn saw something else in Petrulevich and transformed him into a middle-distance 800-meter runner. Although he feels that the competition here is tougher than in Lithuania (good times here would break Lithuanian records), Petrulevich instantly made his mark. He was the men’s track and field’s most outstanding newcomer in 2003. In the 2003-2004 season, he was named to the All-Big East team.

After this year, Petrulevich isn’t sure what he will do. He will no doubt continue running for pleasure. He is not sure if he will run seriously; it depends on whether his job allows time for running. He is considering running in the European Championship if the opportunity presents itself. His times are certainly good enough to represent Lithuania.

For now, though, Petrulevich will focus on his senior year in the United States.

‘The opportunities here for athletes are more than I expected,’ he said. ‘They care for you here. Back home they say, ‘take care of yourself when you’re injured.’ They don’t really help you prepare.’

As thankful as Petrulevich is to have the opportunity to run in America, his coach is equally grateful.

‘He’s really fun to have on the team and is unbelievably talented,’ Hartshorn said. ‘(VP) makes it look effortless. He’s a very cool cat; we’re going to miss him.’

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