A couple of months ago a young kid began showing up at the 5:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday runs of the Oak-William Runners (the OWies). He is Paxton Ferencak, age 12, a 7th grader at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest, and an emerging running star. His mom, Dawn, drives him to our meeting point and waits in the car or walks the dog until we finish. And when, by the way, is the last time you saw a kid willing to regularly get up at 5 a.m.?
He seems to be a polite, slightly shy kid (at least around the old guys) who easily lopes along with our faster runners. So with Don Offermann and me plodding along at the back of the parade, we don't get to converse with him very much. Incidentally, Offermann is the one who mentioned our morning runs to Paxton's mom, who thought it would be a good idea for him to join up with some older runners.
Paxton has been running on the Grace cross-country and track teams since 4th grade. His coach, Rich Brooks, a former OWie, says Paxton is a fine all-around athlete who showed he was a hard runner from the very start. And this year he won every cross-country meet in the Lutheran school league, plus a couple of close second place finishes against 8th graders from bigger public middle schools in Oak Park and River Forest.
Brooks says, "Paxton is blessed with athletic ability and a good work ethic -- perfect ingredients to achieve goals and dreams."
He consistently runs at a pace under 6 minutes a mile in his cross country races which range between a mile and two miles.
This fall Coach Brooks also entered him in a big middle school invitational meet in Arlington Heights with over 200 runners. Paxton finished 19th overall, gaining valuable experience. Then at the state Lutheran school meet in Bloomington, he came in 5th overall, leading his boys' team to 5th place. Also of note, the Grace girls' team placed 4th, meaning that for the first time both teams qualified for the Lutheran national meet in Wisconsin.
Two hundred middle school kids from ten states showed up for that national meet where Paxton finished 18th overall, earning All-American honors, and completing his school season on a high note. Brooks noted that Paxton finished 62nd in 2014 so his progress in one year has been dramatic.
But Paxton wanted to keep going. He entered the USA Track & Field Association Illinois Junior Olympics cross-country championships in Romeoville, hoping for a top 5 finish in the boys' 9-12 age division. Even better, he finished first overall over a hilly 2 mile course.
That win qualified him for the USATF regional championships in Shelbyville, Indiana on November 28. And on a cold, wet and muddy day he finished 9th over the 3K course (approximately 1.9 miles) in the boys' age 11-12 race, easily qualifying him for the USATF national Junior Olympics meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 12.
But, unfortunately, the national meet was a struggle. The altitude at Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet, and the course was quite hilly, so Paxton finished farther back in the field than usual -- within the top 60 percent. Afterwards he told his mom that he saw kids fall and not get back up, and 24 of them failed to finish. But Coach Brooks feels that the experience will definitely help him in the future.
In next spring's track season, Brooks says Paxton will compete in the mile, the 800 meters, and likely the 400 meter events, since he is strong in the middle distances.
Obviously Paxton is a talented and dedicated middle school competitor, who still has another year at Grace. After that, watch for him to emerge as a top high school runner.
Answer Book 2019
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