In a typical year, sophomore Erik Roneker would not have gotten a chance to make the men’s track team. Usually filled with top-tier talent, the men’s weight unit often finds it difficult to make space for walk-ons, especially those who were not standouts in high school.
But that didn’t stop Roneker from trying.
[img_assist|nid=21530|title=Brute strength|desc=Sophomore Erik Roneker, a walk-on from Groton, N.Y., has bolstered the track weight unit while improving on his high school numbers.|link=none|align=left|width=67|height=100]
After only two years of high school experience, the Groton, N.Y., native contacted men’s track and field assistant coach Mark Bilyk. Bilyk, who trains the weights unit, knew of Roneker from local high school meets held at Barton Hall but was not overly impressed.
“I had a chance to watch him at a district meet,” Bilyk said. “His high school marks were very average with marks of 47 feet in the shot put and 140 in the discuss.”
Soon, however, Bilyk picked up on something that many coaches didn’t.
“You could see that he didn’t have any proper coaching,” Bilyk said. “He had no idea how to throw. But the one thing you couldn’t rule out is that he is an athlete who didn’t have anybody to show him the right movements.”
Going into the 2005-06 season, the weight unit was depleted, having graduated some of the Ivy League’s top weight throwers, opening the door for Roneker.
“[Roneker] came at a good time; we did not have a lot of throwers, having just graduated three of the Ivy League’s top throwers,” Bilyk said. “Had I been loaded with throwers, this might not have happened. It was a fortuitous time for both of us.”
With the door open, Roneker took full advantage.
“When I first got to Cornell, Coach told me that we were going to start all over,” Roneker said. “I listened and did the best I could.”
Roneker’s attention to detail secured his position on the team and his presence in the Ivies, as he leads the league in the 35-pound weight throw and currently stands third in shot put behind freshman teammate Brian Cortina. This past weekend, Roneker earned the men’s MVP award in the Marc Deneault Invitational after winning the shot put and weight throw events.
Roneker attributes his success to his parents, teammates and coaches.
“In high school, I had no direction, but training with teammates and coaches has helped,” Roneker said. “There were always four or five guys pushing each other to work harder. Last year, I saw myself at the bottom of the ranks, and it made me want to be successful more and more … my parents supported me no matter what.”
But Roneker’s enthusiasm has impressed Bilyk the most.
“He has brought a willingness to learn. He is one of the best workers I have seen. He is always in the weight room, viewing film and reading on how to get better as much as he can,” Bilyk said. “As a coach, you couldn’t ask for anything else.”
While it might seem that Roneker is overworking himself, the natural resources major claims that it comes naturally.
“Track is something I enjoy and am obsessed with, so it is easy to work hard at it,” Roneker said.
His efforts are reflected in his dramatic improvement since arriving at the East Hill. In the past year, he has improved his discuss mark by seven feet and his weight throw by 12 feet, even though the weights are heavier in college than in high school. Additionally, Roneker won three events during the track team’s summer visit to England, placed fifth in last year’s outdoor Heps discuss event and has vastly improved on his high school marks.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I expect him to improve this much and this soon … and still feel that he has yet to reach his potential,” Bilyk said. “He is one of those special kids, a diamond in the rough, who got into the college setting and has just blossomed. … It has made my younger guys take notice.”
Joining Roneker in the weight corps are six athletes: a junior, a fellow sophomore and four freshmen. With so much youth in the unit, Roneker serves as an example of the benefits of hard work.
“[Roneker’s success] just shows that if you work your butt off, you will be good at it,” said freshman Andrew Bohl, Roneker’s teammate on the weight unit.