Dragons runner exemplifying off-season dedication

Posted Monday, Jun. 24, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Cross country is a “want to” kind of sport. Either the participants want to do it or they don’t. There is no in between.

Consider the scenario for Carroll senior-to-be Connor Hendrickson. While recently traveling in Orlando, Fla., he checked with his mother find out when he could run one day. After looking at her conference agenda, the best she could offer was 3 p.m. Now, a late afternoon time to run in the oppressive and thick Florida heat would cause many to pass.

“I just looked at [former teammate Nate Sullivan] and said, let’s go do it,” Hendrickson said. “We had to keep up our schedule.”

To run cross country requires an uncommon discipline. Hendrickson caught the fever in the seventh grade. While playing soccer primarily, he ran in the offseason to stay in shape. Then he finished second in his first race.

Now, Hendrickson is one of the cogs to the state’s most powerful Class 5A program. The Dragons are two-time defending champions and looking for a third consecutive championship this fall. In 2011, Hendrickson finished 27th overall to help the program break through with its first championship. In last year’s repeat performance, he improved to an eighth-place finish.

But the quest to win one of these doesn’t begin in August. It’s already under way. Each day, about 50 members of the boys and girls squads meet at a local Southlake park or other location to run seven to 10 miles. But the message has been sent. Even if a runner has a conflict or summer travel, it is incumbent upon him or her to make sure he or she doesn’t miss. The story of Rachel Harper (Class of 2012) running for 1,400-plus consecutive days is legendary.

“There is such trust with all of us to do our part,” Hendrickson said. “We really enjoy the idea that we have to be there for each other and not let each other down.”

Hendrickson has designs on taking this sport beyond high school. He’s visited with Texas, Georgia, North Carolina State and Oklahoma State coaches. While he hasn’t been offered yet, he’s hopeful another strong season will convince someone to give him the opportunity.

As a runner, he will do both cross country and track and field. He likely will run the 3200 and perhaps other indoor and outdoor events. Still, there’s no question that his first love is cross country.

“I really enjoy the difference scenery in cross country,” he said. “The course is longer and there’s all sorts of terrain you face. You could be running into a hill in one spot and then running directly against the wind in the next moment. Track is just there with 400 meters and go around the track X amount of times.”

The intensity of the running makes the difference. Accumulating the weekly 75 miles is important, but the approach and execution define how much better a runner is becoming. That’s what Hendrickson wants to do.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “You just have to run to the best of your ability every day. And even if there a day when you don’t feel your best, you just have to put it behind you and do your best the next day.”

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