GORHAM — Julian Nijkamp’s road to a state championship was unlikely. After being diagnosed a year ago with Nephrotic Syndrome MPGN Type 2, a rare life-threatening kidney disease, his only goal by November was just to compete alongside his Gorham High teammates in the indoor season.
But as his health improved, even as the window on his indoor track career was closing, Nijkamp turned a long shot into a reality.
He qualified for the Class A indoor state meet with a victory in his first running of the 55-meter hurdles at a Jan. 19 meet, and exactly a month later won the event at the state meet in 7.96 seconds.
Now Nijkamp plans to have the same comeback performance in his final outdoor track season.
“For five months I didn’t feel myself. At the start of the indoor season I couldn’t finish workouts. But I’m a captain so I kept going, just to be there. And I kept my spirits up. Then the meet before the Southwesterns, I ran the hurdles for the first time and had a (personal best time),” Nijkamp said. “Then I was back at it. I knew I had a shot.”
Yet it was only last March when Nijkamp awoke one morning with swollen ankles. Shortly after, his condition was diagnosed, the little-known kidney disease his doctors say occurs in only three out of 1 million people.
He missed the outdoor season his junior year.
Taking as many as 17 pills a day, Nijkamp was tired and unsure of his athletic ability going into this indoor season. But he still kept training, even as he went to get a blood infusion every week at Maine Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital.
A team captain since his sophomore year, Nijkamp needed only the smallest sign of hope for the tough competitor in him to re-emerge.
That first hurdle race back was it.
After he ran 8.20 to qualify for the state meet, where he finished seventh in the hurdles last year, he started believing.
So did the Gorham boys’ coach, Jason Tanguay.
“When he won that race I was shocked. I don’t think he had run five hurdles all winter,” Tanguay said.
“But then at practice before states, he looked fast. He was showing state-champion potential. And I told him that.”
Yet in 20 years of coaching, Tanguay said he had never seen an athlete with so much stacked against him as Nijkamp did at the Class A state meet.
“I was standing at the fourth hurdle when he ran the finals. When he finished, I couldn’t see who won. So I ran across the track. It could have been either one of them. When I saw his name, I started yelling,” Tanguay said.
Nijkamp said finding out he won, and the hug from his coach that followed, was a moment he’ll never forget.
Now he could finish his high school career with another state championship, in the 100-meter hurdles. And even with that before him, Nijkamp has set his sights even higher.
“My goal this year is to make the finals at the New England championships, to represent Maine well,” Nijkamp said.
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at firstname.lastname@example.org