Vedang Lad was cut from the West Windsor-Plainsboro High North swim team as a freshman. The rest is history.
Except defining what the High School North senior has done over the last three years as “the rest” isn’t nearly credit enough for the runner, captain, scholar, artist and EMT.
“He’s a renaissance man,” said North cross country and track coach Brian Gould. “He’s good at everything.”
Lad has become one of the best runners in the state while juggling a challenging academic load and working part-time with the Plainsboro Rescue Squad, sometimes even volunteering all through the night before going to school and practice in the morning.
“Two or three times when you’re actually doing CPR on a person, it’s pretty scary,” Lad said. “The practice dummies don’t do justice to what it feels like to actually press into someone. It’s scary, but it’s cool to know if you were on your own somewhere you know how to do it.”
In Lad’s spare time he reads books about physics, and he finds time to work on drawings or paint a couple times per week. He has been accepted and will matriculate and run at Massachusetts Institute of Technology next year, his top choice and something of a reward for excelling within his busy schedule.
“It’s not too bad,” Lad said. “I still have time to go out with friends, do what any other high schooler do. It’s taught me to be careful with my time. I’m a procrastinator but I pull it off. I still play video games on the computer and go to the movies. Each person has a different capacity. I think I’ve pulled it off for four years. You have to do what you like and it’ll work out.”
Lad has worked to be able to progress steadily through the years, and has lined up a big finish to his scholastic running career. He put himself through his toughest summer of training in preparation for his final year at North.
“Cross country was always something I always felt short on,” Lad said. “My times on the track were always significantly faster than in cross country. I wanted to focus this summer on doing this right. I did the math. In 142 days I ran 1,030 miles. For me, that was the most I’ve ever done. Usually we’re a pretty low mileage team. I knew if I was going to have a long season, I had to put in the extra work. I put in a lot of doubles over the summer.”
‘I don’t know if I’m good at running because I have an ethic or I have an ethic because I’m good at running.’
Lad’s cross country results in the fall were his best ever. He clocked a personal-best 15:44 to start the year, took second at the Mercer County Championships in 15:50 and went on to place 10th in his first trip to the Meet of Champions in a personal-record 16:03 for Holmdel Park before taking 22nd in the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals.
“He’s tenacious,” Gould said. “When he sets his mind to something, he excels. Regardless of how long it takes to get there, he gets there. He’s tough. He handles adversity well. He does not back down. The consistency with the way he works hard led to him getting from where he was to this point.”
Lad wanted to swim as a freshman. Best at the breaststroke, he swam competitively for a club team for years like his older sister, but took his middle school years off to focus on his studies. Despite running and swimming to prepare for tryouts, he did not make the swim team.
“It’s cliché, but you want to make the most out of your biggest failures,” Lad said. “That’s how I got into everything.”
With swimming out for the winter, Lad tried out for winter track. He didn’t give it much thought, but he wanted something to do.
“On the first day of track tryouts, we had a six-minute test,” Lad said. “I ran the mile in 5:55 or something. It was purely on all the swimming I was doing.”
He ran broke 5:20 for the 1,600 meters in mid-December, 2015, but was frustrated when he didn’t progress much beyond that in the winter. It drove him.
“His whole goal was to break 5:00,” Gould said. “And he never did, but he was really angry after every race. So I thought he was competitive and I thought he’d be successful if he stuck with it.”
Lad began to see the results of his efforts that spring. He won the 3,200 meters at the Mercer County Frosh-Soph Championships in 10:10. He dropped his mile best to 4:35.
“It comes down to work ethic,” Lad said. “This sport applies to everything in life. It’s how you study, or how you do anything. Whether it’s a textbook or a long run. I don’t know if I’m good at running because I have an ethic or I have an ethic because I’m good at running.
“I like to keep them both on the same page. Some like to separate the two, but I think with this sport you can combine them. They’re metaphors of each other.”
Lad continued to work at running, and by sophomore year he was placing second on the cross country team. He was even better on the track, where he lowered his 1,600 personal record to 4:22 and dropped his 3,200 meter run to 9:21 and qualified for the Meet of Champions. After that year, he also got his EMT certification.
“My sister went into medicine, and she’d come home and say, we did this, and I’d think, ‘This is cool,’” Lad said. “I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I’m more of a math/physics guy. I still enjoy doing it. I’ve actually done CPR on someone. That’s different from what you learn in bio or physics.”
While Lad won’t pursue medicine as a career, he still loves being a part of the rescue squad.
He volunteers 30 hours per month, 12 of which come on weekends. He takes an 8 p.m. to midnight shift on Mondays, but has ridden overnight too with the understanding it will be a tough day of practice on Tuesdays. It’s just one more thing to balance.
Gould knew of Lad’s running, his EMT involvement and had heard murmurs of his academic achievements even though he’d never taught him in class. Then he saw one of Lad’s pieces of art.
“The thing that surprised me is I had no idea how into art he is,” Gould said. “He showed me pictures. They were pencil, charcoal, and they’re all incredible. He said he just does it for fun.”
Lad focuses on drawing and painting mostly, and when he travels he enjoys photography.
“It’s something I do on the side when I have the time,” Lad said, “Something I could never fit in my schedule is AP art. I have a little studio set up in my room for art and photography. It comes down to doing things that you like.”
Running has remained an integral part of his life. As a junior, he ran 15:46 in cross country for a veteran team that just missed the Meet of Champions. He reached the MOC in track, running 9:17 for third indoors in the 3,200, and placing fourth in the 3,200 outdoors in 9:11.
His season was capped by setting the school 4×800 record and then winning the 4xmile national title at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals to set up his senior year which started well in cross country.
“The big goal was Meet of Champs,” Lad said. “I placed in 2-mile indoors. I never even made it to Meet of Champs in cross country. It was almost insulting to me. I was pretty set on that that I wanted to run well there. It certainly didn’t end the way I wanted to. I didn’t run as well as I wanted to at regionals, which cut me from going to nationals.”
On top of his own running, he helped bring along a team that was hit hard by graduation. North lost five of its top seven runners, and the Knights needed Lad’s veteran presence.
“He was an easy choice for captain,” Gould said. “Because our team was mostly freshmen and sophomores, it would been easy for him to focus on himself but he didn’t. He’s an incredible leader.”
Said Lad: “I wanted to make sure for the next couple years, these guys know what to do. I was trying to be a good example of how to train and race. I’m pretty excited for them. It’s a pretty talented group.”
Lad’s strongest cross country campaign has built up anticipation for his winter and spring track seasons and for what’s to come in the years ahead. Lad drew Division I college interest, but is looking forward to studying and competing for MIT.
“Competition is competition,” Lad said. “It’s not that I wouldn’t be improving in D3 like D1. I visited and loved it.”
Gould says he can’t wait to follow Lad’s developments at the next level
“Everything the kids touches,” Gould said, “he does excellently.”