Contrary to what many people think, Paul Kinser of Page is not a running fanatic. Training for a boys' cross country meet is not his idea of having a good time.
Kinser would rather ski or go mountain climbing, which are two of his favorite hobbies.Winning meets is what Kinser enjoys. To him, there is nothing better than crossing the finish line.
``I like the feeling when you win,' Kinser said. ``It gives you a feeling of accomplishment.'
However, Kinser knows winning and dedication go hand-in-hand, so he worked hard to improve his running times each week. It was not
unusual to see Kinser working on his technique long after practice was over.
The extra work paid off for Kinser in a big way.
The Page senior went from an average runner in the ninth grade to the best in the state this season.
According to Trent Evans, the cross country coach at Page, Kinser became the first Pirate runner since 1984 to finish the season unbeaten. Along the way, Kinser set course records at Page, South Stokes and Smith and tied the Hagan Stone course mark in the Greensboro Invitational.
``The Hagan Stone race boosted my confidence,' Kinser said. ``That was against some of the best runners in the state.'
But it wasn't until Kinser captured the Wendy's Classic that he opened some eyes. The meet was an open division race featuring runners from the Southeast.
Kinser's running rubbed off on the rest of the team. The Pirates were 8-0 during the regular season.
Once the regional and state meets began, however, it was Kinser's show.
In the 4-A regional in Winston-Salem, Kinser recorded a time of 16:23 to finish ahead of the pack. The only meet left for Kinser was the state meet the following week in Charlotte.
Everyone expected Kinser to win the championship, including his coach and some of the college scouts who attended his meets.
But instead of visualizing what would eventually be his greatest accomplishment, Kinser became nervous the week of the meet.
``There was a lot of pressure on me,' Kinser said. ``Everybody was expecting me to win.'
Kinser was so nervous that on the day before the meet, he ran the McAlpine course in Charlotte to get accustomed to the surroundings.
``As I was running on the course, I thought to myself, 'This is the only chance you have, you can either make it or break it,'' Kinser said.
He made the most of it. Even though the field was muddy from the pouring rain the night before, Kinser won state meet last weekend in a time of 16:08.
``I was nervous until I started running,' Kinser said. ``Then I felt relaxed. Once I crossed the finish line, I was very relieved and very happy.'
For Kinser, the state title topped a high school career in which he ran for the Pirates in the ninth and tenth grade, then spent the next year as a foreign exchange student in Germany.
Kinser, who began running since the sixth grade, took his lumps early. That changed once he left for Germany.
``The races are more serious over there,' Kinser said. ``Over here, we may joke around with the other runners before a race. In Germany, nobody says a word. Several times after a meet, some of the German runners would get into fights.'
Despite the rigorous training, Kinser did not feel he was completely ready until he worked out with Charlie Brown, who is the coach of the Greensboro Pacesetters. Kinser has been with the Pacesetters since the sixth grade.
``Brown gets a lot of credit to my development,' Kinser said. ``He gave me a lot of workouts and helped me improve as a runner.'
Between his junior and senior seasons, Kinser says he shaved off 40 seconds on his time, which gave him a positive attitude heading into the cross country season.
``From the beginning of the season, Kinser's goal was to be the best,' Evans said. ``He did everything he could to reach it.'
Kinser hopes to continue running in college but has not decided what school to attend. He has a 3.4 GPA and wants to major in business.
On Wednesday, Kinser was awarded for his achievements on the field and in the classroom. He received the Perdue Excellence Award from the N.C. High School Athletic Association as the top athlete in October.
And while he is grateful for the people that supported him, even he realizes it's not the same as if the football team had won a title.
``Football and basketball are considered the major sports,' Kinser said. ``Running, wrestling and volleyball are considered minor. But it doesn't bother me.'