Frankel Jewish Academy runner Merrick Michaelson finishes his solo journey on the cross country course at Michigan International Speedway at the state meet.
Frankel Jewish Academy runner Merrick Michaelson runs alone on the cross country course at Michigan International Speedway as he completes the first mile of the course at the state meet. (Rick Dorn)

Running solo is something that had never been done in the nearly 100-year history of the cross country state meet.

Hundreds of cross country runners competed earlier this month in the Michigan High School Athletic Association state meet at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

None did what Merrick Michaelson did.

The Frankel Jewish Academy junior from Farmington Hills ran the challenging MIS course all by himself Friday, Nov. 5, one day before the actual meet Saturday, Nov. 6, because FJA student-athletes can’t compete on Shabbat.

That was an accommodation worked out between FJA and MHSAA officials.

Running solo is something that had never been done in the nearly 100-year history of the cross country state meet.

The novelty didn’t go unnoticed.

Runners from teams that were getting a workout on the course cheered Michaelson — even chanting his name — as word spread of what was happening.

They added to a cheering section that already included Michaelson family members, FJA officials and his coaches.

FJA Athletic Director Rick Dorn was in the lead vehicle with a race official while Michaelson ran on the sunny afternoon with light winds.

“I thought Merrick was spectacular,” Dorn said.

FJA cross country coach Andy Picard agreed.

“Merrick did very well given the circumstances,” he said.

As for Michaelson, he said running by himself was difficult, and he didn’t get the time he wanted.

“But it was worth it,” he said.

Michaelson’s time of 18:16.81 placed him 95th among 248 runners in the Division 4 boys race, although he was not listed on the MHSAA website as of last week.

Dorn said he’s trying to get that mistake corrected.

“I wanted to break 18 minutes,” Michaelson said. “Perhaps I had too high expectations.

“With nobody running in front of me, there was no one to pace myself with, and nobody to pass,” he said. “Everything was self-motivation.”

Picard said Michaelson’s biggest challenge running by himself was a lack of competition.

“Keeping up his race pace with nobody else to run with was hard,” he said. “Merrick feeds off having others there to race.

“Also, MIS is a difficult course, especially the last mile (of the 3.1-mile course).”

Michaelson began running at 2 p.m. Nov. 5 so he wouldn’t miss too much school time that day, and get back home in time for Shabbat.

He qualified for the state meet while running as an individual in a regional meet Oct. 29 at Happy Acres Farm, a working farm in Webberville.

He ran a personal-best 17:47.30 at the regional and finished ninth overall in the race. He was among the top 15 runners who were not on state meet qualifying teams, which earned him a spot in the state meet.

FJA teammate Noam Goal also ran as an individual at the regional. He finished 39th overall in 19:58.52.

This was the second time Michaelson qualified for the state meet as an individual. He ran with Division 2 runners last year at MIS when the meet was split into two days because of COVID-19 restrictions.

He was clocked in 18:08.

He’s the first and only FJA cross country runner to qualify for the state meet.

The school has had a cross country program for more than 10 years. This was Picard’s fourth year as coach.

Frankel Jewish Academy runner Merrick Michaelson finishes his solo journey on the cross country course at Michigan International Speedway at the state meet as he heads down the home stretch.
Frankel Jewish Academy runner Merrick Michaelson finishes his solo journey on the cross country course at Michigan International Speedway at the state meet as he heads down the home stretch. Rick Dorn

Michaelson was an FJA boys cross country team captain this season even though he wasn’t a senior.

“Merrick has been a leader on the team through his performance and attitude ever since he was a freshman,” Picard said. “He’s motivated, leads by example, always gives a maximum effort during practice and supports his teammates.

“It’s difficult to think of anyone who is more deserving than Merrick to be the first FJA cross country runner to compete in the state meet.”

Michaelson also plays basketball and baseball for FJA. 

Please send sports news to stevestein502004@yahoo.com.

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