Crawford savors championship day
Growing up on his family’s farm in the Union Cross section of Forsyth County, Patrick Crawford liked to run through the fields and up and down the hills through the woods.
“We’d just run in the woods,” Crawford said. “We weren’t running to be good. We were running to have fun.”
He ran, in part, to get in shape for youth soccer, but he eventually decided that he was good enough to take it seriously. He began running cross-country competitively as a freshman at East Forsyth with the goal of one day winning a state championship. When he was a sophomore, he also realized that running might provide a path to college.
“My parents talked about it and when I was a sophomore, I saw a friend of mine get an athletic scholarship,” Crawford said. “I didn’t think I could get a scholarship for academics, but I saw the opportunity to get one for athletics.”
He got his state 4A championship as a senior and also got his athletic scholarship when he signed with High Point University.
Just as he targeted a state championship as a high school freshman, he set the goal in his first year of winning a Big South championship with the Panthers.
He came close during his first three years: finishing sixth as freshman, third as a sophomore and fifth as junior. He finally realized the dream last Saturday, finishing 20 seconds ahead of HPU teammate Jeff LaCoste at Vista Links Golf Course in Buena Vista, Va.
Crawford claimed it was just another day of competition.
“I was thinking about my schoolwork more than anything,” Crawford said. “I had a lot on my plate. I was treating it like any other race. I knew what to expect with everyone in the competition. There was nothing really extraordinary about it. I just kept doing what I’d been doing all year.”
Not bad for someone who had to cut back on his training for the three weeks leading up to the meet because of a foot injury.
“I ran some on my hard workout days and worked out in a pool on my soft days,” Crawford said. “I got back on running on land for real two or three days before the race. But that might have been a blessing because my legs were fresh.”
He had been on the Buena Vista course only once before, but that was enough for him to develop a strategy and visualize running the race in his mind over and over. He liked the layout in the mountain community because it had hills.
“When things started rolling, I knew it was going to be my day,” Crawford said. “I know how to run courses like that with hills. It was a nice, hilly course, really hard — that’s what I like. You get on a course like that, it’s more than putting one foot in front of another. It’s about getting over the next hill, reading the terrain and how you need to run it. It’s just more fun for me.”
Crawford considered a couple of runners from Liberty as his main competition. He ran behind them for the first 1.5 miles before streaking past them by picking up the pace in an uphill section. He knew that he had LaCoste behind him for a time.
“As the race kept going, I was trying to stay calm and keep my eyes forward,” Crawford said. “I heard the meet announcer say I was leading by 15 seconds at one point and kept telling myself to keep going and keep building it. The last time, when I came up this really big hill with a kilometer to go, I got to the top and I knew that I had it. From that point, it was just a matter of keeping my legs going and keeping them going fast.
“Coming down the last big hill, I kind of chilled out. I didn’t coast in, but I didn’t have to get after it. I kind of rolled in and enjoyed the moment. I was surprised how far I had gotten away from every one. I thought it would be closer. I just ran — I didn’t think, I just ran. It was as simple as that.”
It was his second victory for HPU, according to the university’s website. The other one came earlier this season.
“It was like any other day,” Crawford said. “This time, it was just my day. As a runner, you have on days and off days, and this was an on day for me. ... I just had a day that was a little bit better than other people’s. If I had to do it again, it could go the other way. It could be my bad day and somebody else’s good day.”
He hopes for another good day in the NCAA Southeast Region Championship in Earlysville, Va., on Nov. 15. The top two teams and the top five individual finishers not on those teams advance to NCAA Championship in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23.
Crawford said a good day for the Panthers as a team would be top-10 finish in a regional that could also have ACC and SEC schools. He also believes that he could possibly advance as an individual, even though his previous best is 36th as a freshman.
“When I came to High Point, I had my sights set on winning the conference and also getting to nationals as an individual,” Crawford said. “There will be a lot of talented kids at the regional. But, like I said, it can be anyone’s day if you have a good day.”