Cross Country

How a freak accident in middle school helped Tommy Landt discover his passion

A severe concussion in fifth grade put the Crystal Lake Central senior on a new path

Tommy Landt was not much different than most little brothers while growing up.

When he saw big brother Aidan Landt playing football for the Crystal Lake Raiders’ youth program, he played that sport too. It was something over which the brothers bonded.

They loved football.

But it was not football that prompted Aidan Landt to drive three hours back Platteville, Wisconsin on Oct. 10 to cheer for his brother.

It was about as far from football as an athlete can get.

Aidan Landt, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound sophomore offensive lineman for NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Platteville, returned to support his brother in cross country, and Tommy did not disappoint.

Tommy Landt added to his remarkable season by winning the Fox Valley Conference Meet, finishing 18 seconds ahead of second-place Crystal Lake Central teammate Karson Hollander.

Landt and Hollander led the Tigers to the team title; Landt went from not even earning All-FVC status as a junior to conference champion.

“I’m super-happy that he found something that makes him happy,” Aidan Landt said. “Everything happens for a reason.”

What happened to Tommy Landt in fifth grade, a freak accident that caused a horrible concussion, changed the course of his life, but ultimately in a good way.

Tommy Landt’s head was not injured on the football field, but in his fifth grade physical education class. He was jumping rope when a basketball rolled under his feet while he was in the air. He cracked his head on the gym floor at South Elementary School.

The next 14 months were difficult for Steve and Elizabeth Landt and their son. The accident happened on Oct. 7 and when Tommy Landt finally returned to school, he could not make it through a full day for the rest of that school year.

Landt often had to sit in a quiet, dark room for relief.

“It was devastating. He was in a fog. He looked glazed over,” Elizabeth Landt said. “No loud sounds. No bright lights. He had to wear glasses to help him read. Every little thing would give him a headache and he could sleep for hours. We let him, because it wasn’t like a sprained ankle where you could put it in a cast or wrap it. Your brain is constantly functioning and working, so when he slept was when it healed.

“He struggled through school and couldn’t get through a full day of school. If you talked to him, he’d kind of look at you blankly. It took him a while to respond. We had a lot of great doctors and therapists help him.”

Eventually, Landt's condition improved. A doctor even told the Landts that Tommy could return to football, but after what he had been through, he was not risking anything.

“At the beginning, it was super-disappointing,” Tommy Landt said. “That’s all I really knew until then. I just loved playing football. I knew I had the opportunity to do something else and keep competing and having fun growing up. So I got into running and kept working at it.”

Even after a couple of years running in middle school, Landt was no standout. Tigers coach Bill Eschman laughs while now telling a story from Landt’s freshman season.

For his first race, the Wauconda Invitational, Landt had a foot injury. He was near tears before the race because he hurt, but he did not want to let Eschman down.

“I said, ‘OK, then, you’re hurt. You’re a freshman, but I trust you,’ ” Eschman said. “The following week, he ran at Kaneland and ran 28 minutes. But he’s a guy who just cares. He loves sports, he loves the guys, and every year you saw improvement.”

By the next season, Landt had really been bitten by the running bug.

“Honestly, sophomore year toward the end I started to get into racing other people instead of just improving my own time,” Landt said. “At the beginning there wasn’t anyone around me, I was toward the back. Then I started to get up with my teammates. I really grew close to all the guys and it was more of a team thing, to get motivated and do better for the team and maybe make it to varsity.”

Landt made it to the varsity lineup as a junior, but again did not stand out until this fall.

Eschman credits all his runners for their dedication to training this summer. The Tigers hit it hard with 60- to 65-mile weeks and it has shown during the season. They tied with Jacobs at 8-1 in the FVC dual season, then won the FVC team title.

Other than a double dual at Cary-Grove where Landt, Hollander and teammates Danny Hamill and Austin May ran together and crossed the finish line side-by-side, Landt has not been beaten.

Neither has Marian Central’s Peter Walsdorf, who won the East Suburban Catholic Conference title on Saturday at Arlington Park. Landt and Walsdorf will be two of the favorites this Saturday at the Class 2A Belvidere Regional. Their flight of the boys race (with runners Nos. 1-4) will start at 11 a.m.

Who would have ever dreamt that when Tommy Landt, an aspiring offensive lineman, walked away from football he would become an NCAA Division I running prospect?

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the big invitational meets from being held this season, so Landt may still be under the radar of college coaches. Eschman hopes the next two weeks will change that.

By comparison, Huntley’s Ian Geisler (now at Iowa) won the 2019 FVC Meet at Elgin’s Plato Park in 15:20 last year. The course had a couple small modifications, but Landt finished in 15:03.96.

“That puts him in pretty good company,” Eschman said. “He just has a lot of confidence and he works extremely hard. He is a great kid to coach. He is what every coach would love. He tries to do everything the right way.”

Aidan Landt dreaded seeing his brother go through the hard times with his concussion. But he is thrilled that Tommy found running.

“It was hard. Football was something we kind of did together,” Aidan Landt said. “It was fun to see him transition into running. I had just as much fun out here today, yelling at him to get ahead and stuff, as I would have if he was playing on the line.”

Elizabeth Landt thinks her son was more serious before his head injury and enjoys his funny side now.

“He’s got this sharp sense of humor,” she said. “He still has to be very regimented. He puts himself on his own schedule. He lives his life that way and it helps him.

“Running was something he could do (safely). He wasn’t great at it at the beginning, but he’s his biggest competition. He kept going with it and here we are. We’re very proud of him.”

IHSA Regional Cross Country Meets

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, races are being split into two or three flights for boys and girls, divided by where runners usually finish in their respective lineups. The race times will then be blended by computer for final individual and team standings.

Class 1A Harvest Christian Regional

Local team competing: Johnsburg

Race times: Girls Nos. 1-2, 9 a.m.; Girls Nos. 3-4-5, 9:40; Girls Nos. 6-7, 10:30; Boys Nos. 1-2, 11:30 a.m.; Boys Nos. 3-4-5, noon; Boys Nos. 6-7, 12:30 p.m.

Class 2A Antioch Regional

Local teams competing: Harvard, Prairie Ridge, Richmond-Burton, Woodstock North.

Race times: Girls Nos. 1-2, 9:45 a.m.; Girls Nos. 3-4-5, 10:30; Girls Nos. 6-7, 11:15; Boys Nos. 1-2, noon; Boys Nos. 3-4-5, 12:45 p.m.; Boys Nos. 6-7, 1:30.

Class 2A Belvidere Regional

Local teams competing: Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Marengo, Marian Central and Woodstock.

Race times: Girls Nos. 1-4 9 a.m.; Girls 5-7, 10:00; Boys Nos. 1-4, 11:00; Boys Nos. 5-7, noon.

Class 3A Guilford Regional

Local teams competing: Dundee-Crown, Huntley and Jacobs.

Race times: Girls Nos. 1-4, 10 a.m.; Girls Nos. 5-7, 10:45; Boys Nos. 1-4, 11:45; Boys Nos. 5-7, 12:30 p.m.

Class 3A Grant Regional

Local teams competing: Cary-Grove and McHenry.

Race times: Girls Nos. 1-2-3, 9 a.m.; Girls Nos. 4-5, 9:45; Girls Nos. 6-7, 10:30; Boys Nos. 1-2-3, 11:30; Boys Nos. 4-5, 12:15 p.m.; Boys Nos. 6-7, 1:00.

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