Hannibal senior Ayden Nichols has overcome injuries, illnesses and some tough luck throughout his standout prep running career.

Ayden Nichols is no stranger to adversity.

The Hannibal senior has encountered injuries, illnesses and some tough luck throughout his standout running career. 

Nichols has come back strong each time, making the final stages of his last prep track & field season all the more sweet.

Nichols finished in the top three last weekend in both the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Class 4 District 4 championships to advance to Saturday's sectional meet.

“Ayden is the perfect example of how sometimes you can't control things that happen to you, but you can control how you respond,” Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair said. “He's responded well in every situation.”

Nichols was in strong position last year at sectionals in the 1,600 looking to punch his first ticket to the state track meet.

His season came crumbling down when he was boxed in and tripped, ultimately dropping him back to a seventh-place finish — three behind what he needed to advance.

“Sometimes when things are just taken from you, you don't even have a chance to give up,” Nichols said. “But I just trust that everything is in the Lord's hands and that He has a greater plan, which He always does. Learning to believe that has really strengthened my faith, and I've been able to take on obstacles not just on the track but in life.”

The trials have kept coming.

Nichols got a staph infection this past fall that forced an early end to his final prep cross country season.

“I was just feeling super tired and fatigued,” he said of his health from the third meet of the season and beyond. “I was having decent workouts but not great ones. That was because the staph infection had already started in my knee and it was just draining my energy.

“It was painful to walk and even more painful to run.”

Nichols mustered enough endurance to lead the Pirates with a fifth-place showing at the North Central Missouri Conference championships.

But his condition failed to improve.

The senior decided with his coaches to shut down his season just days before the district meet. 

“Of all the injuries I've had in all the seasons, that probably hurt the worst,” Nichols admitted. “Every other injury I've had, I've still been able to run at that district meet. To have that season pulled from me really hurt.”

Once healthy, Nichols turned to winter training to bridge the gap between cross country and track & field this school year.

The hard work has paid dividends, as he has finished near the top of the leaderboard each time out in the 1,600 this spring. His third-place sectional finish in the 3,200 last weekend was his first time running the race this season.

His time of 4:33 in the mile at Saturday's district meet was good for runner-up honors. 

“I'm feeling really good,” Nichols said. “The 4:33 I ran on Saturday was the same time I had last year at that same district race and won. It's encouraging to know my shape is right back where it was.”

Especially in light of a concussion he experienced during a mid-April meet in Jefferson City.

Nichols was taking a nap under bleachers before a race at the Capitol City Relays.

When he arose, he hit his head on a beam.

After taking a week and a half off from training, the senior returned in time for the Mark Twain Relays at Porter Stadium on April 27, when he placed third in both the 1,600 and 800.

“To have it happen to me when I wasn't even running, just a freak accident, I was thinking that my season was hindered if not over,” he said of the concussion. “But after 10 days off, I was able to rebound.”

Nichols placed third in both the 1,600 and 800 at the NCMC track & field championships May 4 before his strong showing at districts. 

On Saturday at MICDS in St. Louis, he looks to qualify for state.

“It means a lot to be in this position senior year,” Nichols said. “I'm going to go out there and give it my best shot. Making state is the goal, but it doesn't stop there. I want to have good races, so I'm going to put everything out there on the track.”