12-year-old Ontario runner has sights set on Olympics after setting world record

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12-year-old runner has sights set on Olympics after setting world record
WATCH: 12-year-old Sawyer Nicholson from Stouffville, Ont., is proving you’re never too young to start breaking world records. Last year, Nicholson broke the world record for the fastest 5K for her age group. She is currently on the Durham Dragons track team, working to beat her own personal bests. Traveling from Durham to Boston, to Philadelphia and Hawaii, the sky is the limit for this young runner. Emma Convey reports – Feb 2, 2024

As she crossed the finish line at the Niagara Falls International Marathon’s 5K last year, Sawyer Nicholson started her world record-breaking journey, scoring a time of 17:28, and setting the world record for the fastest 5K by an 11-year-old.

“I like getting to improve my times and obviously winning,” said 11-year-old Nicholson. “Who doesn’t like winning?”

This young running sensation is now 12 years old and competing against athletes twice her age.

“We didn’t actually think she was going to be an athlete. It wasn’t until she was seven and she got involved in soccer when we started to notice” said Levi Nicholson, Sawyer’s father.

When Sawyer’s soccer club shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she picked up a passion for running. Her coach, Ahjton Roberts, encouraged her to stay in shape, running alongside her father, who’s also a runner, and her mom running triathlons. Running felt like the obvious choice.

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A soccer player on the FC Durham Academy U14 OPDL Team, and a runner with the Durham Dragons Athletics Club, Sawyer calls Stouffville home. Now, when asked about her favourite of the two sports, she admits that she likes running a little bit more.

Sawyer first began running with her parents, starting with shorter distances, and working up to those 3K and then 4K runs. “Then I couldn’t keep up anymore, and I now ride my bike beside her,” joked Levi Nicholson. But when it comes to all things running-related, the 12-year-old says race day is her favourite.

Sawyer says she still gets a little nervous for races, but her nerves are settling the more she competes.

“When I’m on the starting line getting ready for the gun to go off, I’m like, can you please start? I’m just like, the suspense is killing me. But then when the gun goes, I don’t really think about much, I’m just like I got to get out,” said Sawyer.

However, her nerves don’t reflect the number of medals she’s earned.

Her personal bests are higher than not only kids her age, but adults double it. Jan. 27 was her most recent personal best for the 1,500, completing it in 4 minutes 57 seconds.

Her 2,000m personal best of 6.49 became the provincial indoor record for 2000m, and her personal best for the 3,000m is 10.29 which she got on an outdoor track.

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While being a competitive athlete, the teen says sometimes it’s tough to juggle sports and school, especially with soccer being a team sport and running, where she has solo training.

But in first place for Sawyer is school.

“You never know if you are joining to be a professional or not. So, I need to be good at school, so school comes first and then everything else,” said Nicholson. But those who work with her one-on-one see huge potential in her athletic abilities.

“She’s an outlier when it comes to runners, she’s performing at a very high percentile and has a world record,” said Ahjton Roberts, Sawyer’s strength and conditioning coach.

According to Ahjton Roberts, the high-performance programming for 180-degree high performance starts at 12, but for Sawyer, it started at nine.

“The athlete mentality is definitely there. It’s admirable. It’s motivating. She’s very mature for her age and she’s driven for (her) age. Really takes this seriously. But she still always comes with a smile on her face, which is key.” said Ahjton.

Sawyer’s training is heavy on the pymetrics, consisting of balance and stability. And when prepping for race day, it’s all about hydration.

“The day before a race, I drink a lot of water, like four bottles maybe,” said the athlete. “I like to warm up with my AirPods, just listening to music and get focused.”

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“I don’t have like a favourite song, but like, this might seem a bit crazy, but I really like Olivia Rodrigo,” said Sawyer.

For Sawyer, racing isn’t just about winning but also making friends.

“I love what it’s like when I’m racing and I am like, I’m going to beat you. But then … after, it’s like OK, now we’re best friends.” She sees racing as competing against the clock, trying to beat your own personal best.

Sawyer’s parents Tracy and Levi Nicholson said they are beyond proud of their daughter.

“It’s just amazing. You know that that little girl can do what she does. It’s just incredible,” said Levi Nicholson. “She is an incredible athlete but more important an incredible kid.”

Sawyer said she hopes to continue to race across the country, in hopes of one day representing Canada in the Olympics.

When asked about her tricks for running so fast, her response was to be mentally tough and that this type of career means being able to take pain and stay motivated.

And this young athlete even provided some words of advice for aspiring runners.

“Just do your best and having fun is important, staying motivated, and when things get hard, don’t give up.”


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