TOWNSEND -- When Ashby resident Michael Niemi first stepped foot on the track surface in the eighth-grade, he knew that he had found his top sport. After a dominant showing in middle school track, Niemi came into North Middlesex Regional High School with a boatload of confidence.
His six-foot-two lanky frame is a near perfect fit for his main event, the 110-meter hurdles.
"There's a saying, 'hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard,'" North Middlesex track and field head coach Suzanne Williams said. "He gets that and he knows to compete head-to-head with the talented athletes in our league and in the state, that he has to put it all together and that's what he does."
In the Patriots first meet of the season at Fitchburg, the senior shattered the school record of 15.30 seconds set by Gary Lorden in 1987.
Niemi's goal when he arrived at the high school as a freshman was to break Lorden's record, but he was not sure if that goal would be attainable after he injured his MCL in the last meet of his junior season at Shrewsbury.
Lucky for Niemi, the injury did not require surgery.
"When I started track in eighth-grade the gym teacher made me do hurdles because of my height," Niemi said. "It seemed to be a good fit for me -- I never lost a meet while I was in middle school.
"When I came into the high school, I decided to join track and do the hurdles. I kept on winning somehow what I was doing running wise seemed to fit perfectly for the hurdles. I started doing a lot of box-jumps, and I tore my MCL. I was racing the 400-meter hurdles at the end of my sophomore year at Shrewsbury when it happened. I thought that was going to be it; I didn't think I would be able to come back."
Niemi's time of 15.20 seconds did not come without controversy since it came at Fitchburg's Crocker Field, which is measured in meters, not yards like that of the Patriots' home track.
When Niemi finished the 110-meter hurldes at Fitchburg earlier this month, he had no idea that he had broken the record.
Niemi left the meet early to go to his part time job a few blocks away from Crocker Field.
Williams went home following the meet and converted Niemi's time to yards, in order to make sure that his record time was in fact official.
"The original record was set at 120 yards at 15.3 seconds," the coach said. "When Mike ran the rounded 15.20 time for 110 meters, I had to do the math before confirming, as well as confirm the original time was also hand timed. Once I converted yards to meters and that the original time was also a hand time, I could confirm it."
Niemi's mother and grandparents were at the race when he broke the record, and they were ecstatic to see the young man's goal that he set as a freshman entering the high school come to fruition in the first meet of the regular season.
"Oh, my mom was the happiest I've ever seen her," he said. "She has been tracking me and going to every single one of my meets. She is always there at the finish line taking pictures and waiting for me.
My grandparents have recently started coming to every meet because I was so close to breaking the record.
They were there to watch me break it. It is definitely one of the biggest accomplishments of my life so far."
Niemi has verbally committed to UMass Amherst with a track and field scholarship.
The Minutemen compete in the Atlantic-10 Conference and sought out the North Middlesex senior for his ability in the 110-meter hurdles.
Niemi plans to major in biology and pre-med; he wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
"UMass is a really good fit for me because they are really close to UMass Medical School," he said. "I have always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was six, but I never knew what kind. Once I got into high school, I realized my love for sports.
I thought that being an orthopedic surgeon would allow me to work with sports injuries and young athletes every day."