The crowd at Toronto’s Oasis Zoo Run was shocked on Saturday morning, as pint-sized runner Sawyer Nicholson was the first woman to cross the finish line, winning the 5K in 19 minutes and 25 seconds.
The 10-year-old from Stouffville, Ont., beat 1,400 other runners in her first-ever road race. “At first, I was shocked by the number of people on the start-line,” says Nicholson. “I normally do races with far fewer runners, but once the race started, all my nerves went away.”
Nicholson says she was surprised when she found out she won: “I never thought I had the chance to win. I have seen races on TV where the winners get to break the ribbon at the end. I never thought it was going to happen to me.”
In 2020, her dad, Levi, got her into running to stay in shape for soccer season. Levi would often go out for runs with his daughter, but as she started to get faster, he struggled to keep up. Now he rides his bike to keep up with his daughter when she runs.
Nicholson runs with the Durham Dragons Track Club and won two Athletics Ontario junior gold medals in the 600m and 1,000m this summer. She won the 1K in an Athletics Ontario meet-record time of 3:18.09.
After her success on the track, her dad wanted her to try a road race. “I thought it would be fun to run at the zoo, not realizing how hilly the course was,” says Nicholson.
Nicholson is not looking to choose between soccer or running any time soon, and has goals of one day receiving a full athletic scholarship and representing Canada at the Olympic Games.
“I like both sports as they offer different challenges and lessons,” she says. “In soccer, I am often the smallest player on the field, so it is a constant battle to change people’s perceptions that size does not matter,” she says. “With running, I like that I get out of it however much I put in.”
Her success in her first 5K has led to her signing up for two more races this fall. “I’ll be competing again in October at the TCS Toronto Waterfront 5K and at another 5K in Niagara Falls,” she says. She also hopes to podium at the Athletics Ontario Provincial XC meet in November.