FREDERICKTOWN — Nicolas M. Gaumer was more than a high school junior who led the Fredericktown cross country team.
He was, to so many, a friend.
Gaumer and his sister, Ashlei Ernsberger, died on Saturday when the car they were in struck another car head-on on Ohio 13. It was a tragic end to a life that was lived to its fullest in 16 short years.
Gaumer’s closest friendships were made through running. It was one of the things he was best at; Gaumer won the Mid-Buckeye Championship this past season, later qualifying for state for the first time after finishing 12th at OHSAA regionals. He finished 88th at state but, as he told the News, he wasn’t disappointed.
“I know I’m not the fastest. I’m probably not going to be,” Gaumer said on Nov. 5, following the Division III state cross country championship. “But this is what I love doing. And as long as I can keep doing it one more week, I’ll continue to do it.”
“We had set a goal for him to finish 89th,” recalled Fredericktown cross country head coach Bob Geiger. “We had looked at the lineup, and that was what we set. But he finished 88th. That’s just the way he was. He always finished ahead. … He’s not the kind of kid that wanted to finish 100 percent, it was always 101.”
Geiger would know. As he coached Gaumer over the years, it became more than just a coach-athlete relationship.
“As a teacher and a coach, you’re supposed to teach them. There’s supposed to be a line,” said Geiger. “But I always felt, with Nick, I crossed that line. He was my friend.
“There are athletes that compete for you, and you’re proud of them. Then, there are athletes that live their lives the way you would want your kids to live. Nick was like that. … He was someone I’d looked forward to running with for years. He was my running buddy.”
“I’m really going to miss him,” said teammate Emily Roberts. “He was one of the reasons I was able to do what I’ve done in running. We’ve pushed each other. Last year, after track regionals, he came out to every practice with me. He really pushed me, and I guess I pushed him, because he didn’t want to get beat by a girl.”
Gaumer wasn’t just your average high school junior. He was an ambassador at the Knox County Career Center, and was president of the KCCC Sports Medicine and Exercise Science program. He was flight leader for his ROTC program, and even served as president of the Dream Catchers 4-H Club.
Those activities paint a picture of a young man who was mature beyond his years. He was — but he also had fun.
While staying in Indianapolis for the Nice Cross Nationals Midwest regional — what would turn out to be his final competitive run — Gaumer and his teammates had a little too much fun.
“We almost got kicked out of our hotel room,” recalled Roberts. “We got in the elevator, and Nick was standing there. He looked really mad, like ‘I can’t believe you guys.’ But, you could tell underneath, he was trying not to laugh. He was just trying to set a good example.”
Gaumer grew up around athletics. He played Little League baseball with future cross country teammate Nolan Dilts.
“He wasn’t a very big kid, and he was kind of goofy,” said Dilts. “It seemed like, every time he went up to hit, he got hit by the ball. We got him a face mask and chest protector and everything, and he’d still get hit.”
As a high school freshman, Gaumer struggled to fit in with the cross country team, but it had nothing to do with his natural running ability. It had more to do with the little quirks he had away from the course.
“When he first started coming to practice, he didn’t wear spikes, he wore cleats,” recalls former teammate Isaac Potes. “That was a really funny thing. Everybody on the team called him ‘Cleats’ for awhile. … He took our picking well. He would say, ‘Guys, I never knew. I’m sorry!’”
Geiger later paired Gaumer with Potes, asking the elder runner to be his leader. Pretty soon, Gaumer was doing whatever he could to be like Potes. But, Potes noted, Gaumer’s freshman nuances got the better of him on several occasions.
“He would forget everything,” Potes said. “He would do the most freshman things. He would forget his spikes. He would forget his jersey. He’d forget running shoes. He ran like a freshman, too; he’d have that strong kick at the end of the race, then he’d say ‘I could have done better than that.’ So we started calling him Freshman. That was his name.”
Potes said the nickname stuck until this past year, after Gaumer became a junior and a team leader.
“(I told him,) ‘Okay, Nick. You graduated. I’m not calling you Freshman anymore. You might be Sophomore now,” Potes joked.
As Gaumer continued his running career, he became a mentor himself. Fredericktown seventh-grader Caleb Carter knew him well, and joined the cross country team in part because of him.
“My goal, ever since I started running, was to be like Nick,” said Carter. “He has huge shoes to fill.”
Carter said Gaumer was a great role model, and never lost his sense of competitiveness.
“I asked him what would happen if I got to high school and beat him,” recalled Carter. “He’s like, ‘I wouldn’t let you beat me.’ I said, ‘What if I was just naturally going to beat you? What if I’m just faster?’ and he’s like, ‘I don’t care if I have to throw an elbow in your face, you’re not going to beat me.’”
Both on and off the course, Gaumer had a sense of justice. His friends say he always stuck up for someone if they were singled out and picked on.
“Someone was ragging on (a teammate) one day, and Nick just told them how it was,” said Roberts. “That kid never got on that teammate ever again.”
Gaumer’s love for others extended not just to friends and teammates. At the district meet at Watkins Memorial High School on Oct. 22, Gaumer finished third. He then stopped at the end of the chute and shook the hand of the next runner to finish. Then the next runner. Then the next. He stood at the chute for more than 20 minutes, refusing to leave until he had shaken the hand and greeted the very last runner.
Gaumer could always be counted on to put a smile on someone’s face — whether he knew them or not.
“I was really upset after one race,” recalled Roberts. “He kept asking me how I did, and I finally told him — I think it was second — and he turned and yelled, ‘Hey everyone. This is Emily Roberts, and I think she did good!’ And everyone around us stared at me. You can’t help but to laugh.”
“No matter how bad he was doing, whether it be running, church or school, he would make the best out of it,” said Carter. “If people were stuggling, he would crack jokes. They weren’t always good. But he was always there for people. He always wanted to make sure you were just as happy as he was, because he was always happy.”
Gaumer’s behavior toward others brought out smiles all around. Friends say it was his own smile that told the story.
“You could look at him, and if he was smiling, it seemed like the whole world would stop,” said Carter. “Right off the bat, you felt like you were with a friend.”
A 5K run in remembrance of Gaumer will be held in Fredericktown on Saturday, Dec. 31 at 9 a.m. The run will start in the area between the old school and Fredericktown United Methodist Church.
An additional run on March 17, Gaumer’s birthday, is also planned.
Geiger told the News that Gaumer’s parents, Mike and Carrie, didn’t realize how many lives Nick had touched until now.
“If you can get that out of 16 years of life, then you’ve done something,” Geiger said.