Hurdler, distance runner form dynamic duo for North Hills track team

Saturday, June 24, 2023 | 11:34 AM

Their backgrounds are far different, but one common bond has brought two of North Hills’ top track athletes together since middle school. They both love to run, and they both want to win.

Rising juniors Gamaliel Mogire and Kayden Lightner are coming off impressive sophomore seasons on the track in which both shined at the WPIAL championships and qualified for the PIAA finals.

Mogire, a champion hurdler, took the 300-meter hurdles event at the WPIAL meet in May, advancing to the state meet, where he finished eighth. He also claimed a WPIAL bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles.

“Going into the year, I kind of felt like I needed to sort of make things right about what happened during my freshman year, because I missed out on states by one place at WPIALs last year,” Mogire said of the 300-meter race. “I knew that I had to sort of get first place this year in order to prove to myself that I could be an elite hurdler.”

“And the experience competing with the entire state was amazing because you could tell that these people cared about track and they were at a high level of competition, so it kind of felt like I belonged there.”

Lightner, meanwhile, is a distance runner who placed fourth in the 800-meter run at the district competition.

“Going into that meet, I was honestly pretty nervous because leading up to it. I had a few meets where I was not feeling the best,” Lightner said. “I was honestly pretty worried. But my coach just told me, ‘Go out there, race your race, and just get that auto qualifying spot in fourth or above.’ So that’s just what I went out there and did.”

At the state meet, Lightner fell only two spots when facing the state’s top runners.

“I was 100% surprised by that,” he said. “I was seeded maybe 12th or something going into the state meet, and dropping down to sixth, it just kind of blew me away.”

The two runners are not only classmates and teammates but have also become close pals.

“Kaden, he’s one of my best friends,” Mogire said. “We’re basically together for pretty much the whole track season. We go deep into the season. Our relationship is just very close because we could do anything and I feel like I could tell him anything too.”

One of Mogire’s favorite moments of the year was sitting in the hotel before the PIAA meet, playing video games with Lightner while they took their minds off the biggest races of their lives the next day.

“I think ‘Gama’ is, honestly, a really humble guy,” Lightner said. “You wouldn’t think, coming up to him, that he’d be the great athlete that he is just by his mannerisms and the way he goes about it.

“But I think when people don’t count him in, when they think he’s kind of off to the side — maybe from that humbleness — that’s when his wheels really start turning. That’s when I think he is at his best.”

Mogire’s upbringing, perhaps, has led to that humility. An immigrant from Kenya, Mogire moved to the United States in 2009. He struggled in his early years with the language but found friendships, and outlets, via sports. And not just those competed on land.

A year ago, Mogire joined North Hills’ swim team, competing in the 25 and 50-yard freestyle events.

“At first, the experience was tiring because I was not a true swimmer,” he said. “But as the season went on, I would become more efficient in the water, and it was a good experience because it tested my grit.”

Lightner, however, had no such desire to join his friend in the water.

“I like the pool in the summertime,” he joked. “But besides that, I like to stay dry.”

Lightner stays busy on and off the track. He runs cross country, which he refers to as the “battle royale” of running. He also is an excellent student, carrying a 4.0 GPA through two years of high school. And he added a part-time job during the year, working at Second Sole, a retail store specializing in gear for runners, like himself.

“It just honestly brings you deeper into the sport of running,” he said. “Everybody coming in there is part of that running community, so I’m just able to talk with everybody, learn from them, speak with them. It just opens me up to everything about the sport of running.”

Both athletes want to run at a higher level and will start looking into schools in the coming months. Lightner is an excellent math student, and Mogire dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

“I just love sports and the way that surgeons work with the muscles,” he said. “It just goes hand in hand with the knowledge I have.”

Those academic goals, for the two, will likely carry them farther in life than their efforts on the track. But that’s not to say that the two friends aren’t hoping for more of those winning moments as they progress into their junior seasons.

“That feeling crossing the finish line is a relief because it’s a moment whenever I feel like I have achieved something that’ll stick for a while,” Mogire said.

Added Lightner: “I’m hopefully just going to be aiming to make it to states again. And hopefully placing higher, if not winning. That would be awesome.”


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