By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — By his own account, McAlester senior Hank Brown got into long-distance running by accident. Moving from McAlester to Pittsburg when he was 1 month old and then returning to McAlester when he was 7, Brown joined the track team at Frink-Chambers.
Because his friend Eduardo Suarez happened to be a distance runner, Brown became one as well.
It didn’t take long for Brown to get hooked.
“First time I ever ran 10 miles, it was just one of the greatest feelings ever,” Brown said Friday. “I felt like I was weightless.”
Brown, now a senior at McAlester High School, runs on both McAlester’s fall cross country team and as a distance runner on the spring track team. Brown’s spring events include the 800 meter run, the 1 Mile, the 2 Mile, the 1 and 2 Mile relays and occasionally the 400 meter.
“You improve yourself a lot,” Brown said of distance running. “It’s a lot harder than just sprinting 100 meters. You have to be mentally tough to do it.”
This is Brown’s third year running cross country for the Buffs. Like many of his teammates, Brown said he’d like to qualify as a team for the state meet in October, something he said will require “a lot of miles and good grades”
“We’d all take a bullet for each other,” Brown said.
“Susanne (Carney, coach) said that she loved it for all the kids out there just running, knowing they’re not going to get medals. They did it just to improve themselves, and that’s pretty inspiring.”
Brown said this 2013 Buffs team seems more focused than in previous years. They’re so focused, in fact, that their coaches had to tell them to stop running so much outside of practice so as to be fresher for meets.
During the summer, Brown said, he’d run several miles every day. But scaling back his recreational running has definitely helped him at meets.
He set a personal record at the Holland Hall meet in Tulsa on Sept. 21, running the 5,000-meter race in 20 minutes and 35 seconds and posting a 4:07 pace.
“My body doesn’t hurt as much, doesn’t ache,” Brown said of his new training regimen.
“I go all out at practice.”
Brown said the biggest lesson he’s learned from his coaches is to “run your own race.”
“You don’t have to worry about getting awards or if anybody’s cheering for you,” Brown said. “It’s you. It’s all in your heart, the strength.”
Many distance runners, including both Buffs coaches Susanne and Josh Carney, say they think best when on the run, and the sport sometimes attracts quieter, more contemplative athletes. Brown, who said he spends his free time reading and is interested in studying a social science like history or philosophy in college, fits that personality to some extent.
“He kind of had a tendency, even, to be a real loner, where he didn’t want to be around anybody,” Coach Susanne Carney said. “Now, he’s able to hang out with the team.
“First time I ever took him out on a run, we were at the stadium, and I said, ‘We’re running to the movie theater and back.’ He was in some old, torn-up basketball shoes and sweatpants. So anyway, we took off, I passed him and said, ‘Why don’t you turn around here and go back?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m going to finish.’”
While Brown sometimes comes off as a little shy, he’s also a member of the Army reserves. He said he plans to join the military after graduating McAlester High School, fulfilling a plan he’s had since freshman year..
“I just saw that the world had a lot of problems, and me sitting around complaining about it wasn’t going to help anything,” Brown said. He added that several of his family members have also served, including a grandfather who was in the Army for 30 years.
Once his term of service ends, Brown said he intends to go to college, though he hasn’t decided where. As someone who enjoys getting lost exploring new places, Brown added he’d like to spend some time living in another country, with Italy being his top choice because of the architecture.
“I like the old buildings, I like the history,” Brown said. “And the food’s a bonus.”
Brown is still in the initial steps of a lifelong race towards whatever his future may be. And as Brown makes his way through the world in the next few years, he’ll no doubt try do so on his own terms — a lesson learned in part from running cross country.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.