• Ethan Widlansky ’18 runs in recent cross country race. Ethan is currently a junior at Pomona-Pitzer College (Claremont, California) and one of the top Division III runners. Photo credit: Pomona-Pitzer

    • Ethan Widlansky ’18 with his Blazers Varsity teammates Emil Caplow ’20, Esrom Fessehaye ’19, Taylor Cundiff ’19, and Kiran Mokadam. Photo Credit: The Bush School

Cross Country: Consistency, Hard Work Has Ethan Widlansky ’18 Thriving At Next Level

Mary Albl
Ethan Widlansky ’18 never set out to run a record-setting time. The plan, according to Pomona-Pitzer College (Claremont, California) Head Cross Country Coach Kyle Flores, was to hit a personal-best come the month of November. Not September 18. 

“I told these guys the goal is to run a personal record (PR) by Nationals, but he had to go against my orders,” Kyle jokingly said. “I was shocked, but not entirely surprised. Ethan has been putting in the work.”

But that day at the UC Riverside Invitational, Ethan clocked a personal-best time of 24 minutes, 10.8 seconds to break the school record held by Will Leer, who is now a professional distance runner. Ethan’s time, which placed him eighth overall, was the fastest amongst Division III runners in the race.
“In my defense, the course was fast,” Ethan said with a laugh. “But it (the time) was not in the cards for the day. I remember first seeing 24:10 and thinking, ‘That’s not right?’ It was a shock when I crossed the finish line.”

But that type of performance, one built on a strong work ethic and drive, and achieving goals originally never thought possible, fits right in line with Ethan’s journey and what he’s been able to accomplish since his time at The Bush School.

“Starting out, Ethan just didn’t know what was possible,” Kyle said. “Ethan just sets that example that if you stay the course, buy into the team, you can achieve most goals that you want.”

Ethan, a junior at Pomona College, and an English major, has slowly developed into one of the best Division III distance runners in the country. Starting out with the sport in the Eighth Grade at Bush, he explained he really began to develop a passion his junior year running under the direction of Bush Head Cross Country Coach James Batey. 

“I found a really good group of ambitious guys my junior year at Bush, and I spent that year chasing them,” Ethan said. 

As a senior at Bush and the program’s top runner, Ethan finished 12th at the 1A Washington Interscholastic Activities Association State Cross Country Championships with a time of 16:12.80. In the Spring, he ran PR’s in the 1,600 (4:28.06) and 3,200 (9:43.62).

“The thing I think about when I think of Ethan, is just consistency, and hard work,” James said. “He is successful because of the work he puts in and the dedication he has to whatever he’s doing. He’s meticulous and he doesn't stop, and that has been essential for him to be really successful.”

Ethan, who was the recipient of the 2017-18 “Blazer Award” from the Bush Athletic Department, and was one of Bush’s Commencement speakers, said he knew he wanted to pursue both running and his love of academics collegiately, but wasn’t totally set on Pomona, a private liberal arts college.

“When I finally stepped foot on campus, it felt like home,” Ethan said. “Everyone here is hands on, and everyone here who is here (athletically) wants to be here (NCAA Division III student-athletes are not awarded athletic scholarships). I think academically and athletically it’s created a pretty good balance, it’s been hard at times, but on the whole it’s been a really good experience.”

Kyle, who described Ethan as one of the jokesters on the team, said after that first collegiate season, Ethan really made a leap in overall training and performance, propelling him from being a good runner to a great runner. As a freshman, Ethan ended the cross country season with an 8,000-meter time of 25:14.0, and finished 192 at the NCAA Division III National Championships. In 2019, he led the Sagehens to a DIII National team title, placing seventh individually (24:32.9). He also claimed the West Regional title (25:00.7). 

“It was really nice to see that all of the sudden, Ethan was taking command of these races,” Kyle said. “There’s no one who could really beat him on a given day, it would take a lot, and I think once Ethan realized that too, his running career has just been on the upwards ever since. He got really consistent with training, buying into our philosophy -- train easy on easy days, and train hard on the hard days. And after that, he’s just been a pivotal part of the team ever since.”

While Ethan’s follow up act to his historical 2019 season was delayed due to COVID-19 cancelling all of the Division III athletics for the remaining 2020 season, he said he was able to get in quality training during this past Spring and Summer with teammates, while adjusting to a new normal and role as a leader for the team. 

“Being invited back to campus and told now, by my elder role I’m a leader, it’s been an adjustment,” Ethan said. “It’s a role I'm trying to think myself into, and for now, it’s just lead by example.”

So far that’s exactly what he’s done. On September 25, he helped guide the Sagehens to a team win at the Cougar Challenge, defeating Division II foe and No. 4 ranked Chico State. Individually, he finished seventh overall (24:55.4). Ethan explained the goal for the remainder of this season is to chase after another National Championship come the end of November. 

“I guess I’m surprised and not surprised,” James said of Ethan’s success. “It’s always great to know that when someone graduates and they've been successful in high school, that they have the potential to get there in college if they want to, and he wanted to.” 

“I think he’s a mentally tough athlete and his mental strength is what sets him apart,” Kyle said. “You can't compare it to many. He leads by example and has that mental strength to be a great runner.”

Ethan, who fondly said the relationships he developed at Bush, especially during his pivotal high school years, are in many ways closer and stronger than with some of his professors. He still has close ties with the current Bush cross country team, as his younger brother Gareth ’25 is a freshman on the co-ed Bush cross country program that is currently 2-0. Ethan said it’s been nice to watch the program grow in numbers and strength from what it was when he was a member. 

“It’s incredible to see how much our program has grown,” James said. “The girls team, the seniors that are on this team, when they were freshmen, there were six of them; we now have 26 girls, and that’s a testament to them and the culture they've built, which is one of support and one that is focused on the team. Kids want to be a part of it because they can come and feel comfortable and feel supported by the people around them, and that’s fully my goal as a coach to foster that environment.” 

Ethan, who said he is set to graduate in the Winter of 2022, still has another year left of eligibility, due to COVID-19, which he plans to use and run for the Sagehens next Fall. While he said he has no plans of trying to run professionally, he wants to attend law school, the way his story has shaped out, anything he puts his mind to, he can achieve. 

“You can progress so much from your freshman year of high school to college if you really just put in that work and you're dedicated,” James said. “Ethan just kept putting in the work and he kept getting better and moving forward. He may not be the most natural athlete around, but he gets over that with hard work and having it being a passion of his that he utilizes daily.”