Athletic icon, and Northwest folk hero, Steve Prefontaine once said, “A lot of people run a race to see who is the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts… ”
Two especially fast-footed Spartans came, toting guts aplenty, to the recent 3A State Cross Country Championship in Pasco, notching top spot finishes and turning heads at the exciting conclusion of one the most smashing seasons of cross country running at Bainbridge High School in some time.
Following his victories at the Metro League and SeaKing District Championships, BHS junior Sebastian Belkin won second place in Pasco — the highest placing for a Bainbridge runner since 1994, when Chris Charles also managed to take second.
Belkin’s steady pacing again prevailed, coaches said, with mile times of 4:55, 4:58 and 4:57 as he moved up nine places after mile one, eventually running just ahead of Gig Harbor star Bradley Peloquin and outsprinting him in the final 100 meters to a new school record 15:22.2.
An increased interest in running, Belkin said, actually lured him away from his first athletic love: mountain bike racing.
“I don’t race as much anymore because I had some shoulder problems and they got worse,” he said. “I found more interest in running, so I didn’t want to screw that up because I was injured all the time.”
The Spartans’ golden boy didn’t get off to a great start, though. He suffered a foot injury early on in his first season with the XC team, one that nearly got him booted off the roster.
“I didn’t run at all before that,” he said. “Basically, the bottom of my foot, the tendon, from the ball or the heel of my foot started tearing. It was really painful. They actually were going to kick me off the team if I didn’t start running, because I was cross training for the first two weeks and I got a warning letter.”
Belkin said he was proud of his performance — and already looking forward to bettering it next year.
“I was running to try and get second,” he said. “The guy who won is on a whole other level. I have him predicted to win Nationals. I would be surprised if he didn’t.”
Contrary to what most might think, Belkin said the start is not as important in a good run as the progress one’s made by the end of the first mile.
“You can never tell in the first mile; it’s too long of a race,” he said. “The first mile is important. By the end of the first mile is really my mark. Am I where I want to be? If you’re not near kind of where you want to be in the race, as far as place, by the first mile split, you have to really get up quick.”
Though his parents are athletic, Belkin said he’s the sole serious runner at home.
“A lot of people don’t get it,” he said. “Definitely the competitive aspect is really fun for me. I like going out there and competing. I’m a competitive person.”
Belkin praised the coaching staff and his teammates for driving him to success.
Close competitors Carter Hall (16:23.6) and Carlo Ruggiero (16:23.9) pushed each other at State as they moved up from 86-87th to 59-60th, respectfully. Nathan McVay (16:47) passed 36 runners in the last two miles, setting the pace just ahead of Elliott Windrope (16:52.3) and Sean Lindsey (16:54.8), who moved up 31 and 26 places.
There’s no “hero worship” on the squad, Belkin said. “No matter how fast I get, those guys are always trying to beat me — which is good.
“The coaching staff has definitely been super supportive,” he added. “I love my coaches. My coaches are probably my biggest fans.”
Senior, and team captain, Anna Scott surged past half a dozen runners in the last 600 meters to a 19:17.8 finish — 27 seconds faster than she had ever run a 5K before — a time which catapulted her up to number two on the all-time State list for Bainbridge women.
She finished just behind Rachel Belt’s number one finish of 18:59 (in 2003), 10 seconds faster than Emily Farrar’s 19:28 (2007), and far ahead of Emily Barreca’s 2009 time of 19:43.
“I was really happy with my performance even though I didn’t manage to break the all-time school record,” Scott said. “I look forward to running times like that and faster in college.”
It was nevertheless an amazing climax to a short cross country career for Scott, officials said, who only just joined the team as a junior after recovering from breaking a leg in a sophomore soccer match.
“I just started running cross country in my junior year of high school, after I played soccer since I was 4,” Scott said. “I chose to switch over completely for a lot of reasons. My older brother had been running cross country for a while and convinced me to try it, so I started coming out to summer training before my freshman year.
“I also joined cross country because I suffered two major injuries in my freshman and sophomore year,” she added. “In my freshman year, I tore my meniscus twice after being tripped in soccer. In my sophomore year, I fractured my femur and hip after a girl kicked me as I was dribbling to the goal. After a year of challenging recovery and months not being able to walk, I decided that I owed it to myself to step back from my life and reconsider what different things meant to me.”
She debuted in a big way: helping take the girls varsity team to State for the first time in more than five years last season.
“This most recent season was a little slower due to the absence of some varsity runners that graduated last year,” Scott said. “Even though the girls team didn’t make it together this year, we still had a great run at districts and finished the year out strong.”
Physically, and in other ways, Scott said her new favorite sport has yielded many rewards.
“Cross country has brought me over 90 new friends each year, a community of incredibly supportive and friendly people, and the ability to become more of a leader in my role as captain during my senior year,” she said. “I am really happy that I chose to switch over from soccer to cross country because now I am able to succeed at something without worrying about being brought down by injury.”