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One thing is for certain: Gator is fast
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2000
LAND O'LAKES -- To describe Scott Habershaw as intense is to suddenly realize the sky is blue, water is wet or air is transparent.
He may be the Gators' top distance runner, boosting the cross country team to its first state tournament berth despite running with a healed broken right ankle full of metal pins and screws.
Now he enters the track season as a state-contending distance runner. He qualified for the 3,200 meters last season, though the flu knocked him out of contention.
So it's obvious the junior takes his running seriously. Very seriously. What isn't so obvious is if he actually enjoys competing ... or even running.
Habershaw knows he is an enigma, even to himself. Why does he continue to run? Why does he thirst for accolades in a sport he's not even sure he enjoys? Why does he run, though it hurts him so?
"To me, it's the most brutal form of self-induced pain," he said. "It's crazy. I don't even know why I do it.
"People ask me why, and I don't really give them an answer," he said. "I don't know what to say. It's one of those things you can't answer. One day when I do answer it, I'll lose interest and give it up."
So why he competes is unanswerable. What's more concrete is why Habershaw is so good.
"He's a very competitive kid. He has a very fluid stride, very efficient, energy-wise," coach Allen Claggett said. "He's focused. When he came out as a ninth-grader, I saw right away he had potential to be that good. He runs along without using much energy."
That potential can be a curse sometimes. Habershaw admits that while at times he loves to run -- though he isn't quite sure why he's so infatuated with the sport -- he doesn't enjoy feeling the pressure to continue competing.
"Coaches, parents, teachers, I was pushed at a young age," Habershaw said. "(At Pine View) middle school, I tried out for the sprints, and they told me I was too slow. I was so mad. Then they told me to try out for the mile. And when they saw how I ran it, they were like, "That's fast.' Ever since then, people have been pushing me on.
"If I ever did quit, I think a lot of people wouldn't be too happy."
Strange. Because unhappy is how his coach would describe Habershaw during practice.
"Sometimes, I don't give him enough to do, and he'll go out and run some cool-down runs," Claggett said. "Simply because he wants to get better."
Another strange thing. Habershaw said the competitive side of the sport unnerves him a bit.
"I come to school, and all the other guys are like, "We have to beat this kid in the mile,"' he said. "I'm like, "Whatever.' I don't like to talk about it much.
"When you come to the track, you come to run. You don't come to socialize or anything else. You've just got to go out and get it done."
Winning is agreeable to him, though.
"Sometimes, I don't really enjoy doing this," he said. "Then if I get first in a big race, if I've got bragging rights, but up until then, it's like, why do I do it?"
Said Claggett: "All he cares about is first."
He qualified for the 1,600 at regionals last season but decided to run only the 3,200 to get to state. Except he pushed himself a bit too hard before the state meet, and a practice run in the rain left him with the flu the day of competition. He limped into last place, barely able to breathe.
Now he wants to make it to state in both races.
Except there are nagging doubts clouding his mind each time he runs and puts his right foot down. Is the pain from his healed ankle mental or physical? Even he isn't sure.
"He tells me it's fine," Claggett said, with more than a hint of disbelief.
"You come to practice, and it's like, boom! It hits you like a brick wall that you're not as good as you used to be," Habershaw said. "I can still hear my one foot slam harder than the other. People tell me I favor it; that I'm not going to be the best I was.
"It doesn't bother (me), and then people tell me it bothers me and then it bothers me. I try not to think about it."
Habershaw's goals this season are to run the 1,600 in 4 minutes, 30 seconds and the 3,200 in 9:59.
For someone who says he isn't sure what he's doing running, he is certainly confident of his future -- wherever it takes him.
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