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If at first you don't succeed ...

An unfulfilled pole vaulting career led to Nathan Adams becoming one of the state's top cross country runners.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001


TAMPA -- Nathan Adams' running career is based on failure.

As a freshman, Adams had his eyes set on something. He failed, told to try something else.

So he did.

He walked across the track from the pole vault pit at Chamberlain and joined the distance corps of the track team. Four years later, he's one of the top runners in the state.

If only not attaining your goals always worked out so well.

When Adams got to Chamberlain, he planned to be a pole vaulter. Inspired by his sister's ex-boyfriend, he dreamed of soaring over the bar at heights equal to that of a two-story building. The only problem is pole vaulters tend to have a lot of muscles in their upper body and a large number of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Adams is tall and lanky, containing what cross country coach Terry Crews estimates as "95 percent slow twitch muscle fibers, maybe 5 percent fast."

So Adams took up with the 2-milers and stuck with them as long as he could.

"They told me to go run with the distance runners," Adams said. "Toward the end of the year, I was hanging with them. By the end of the season, I was beating some of them.

"So I decided to run cross country as a sophomore. It was weird. I grew up playing baseball. I didn't even know running was a sport."

Not only has he found out running is a sport, Adams has excelled at it.

Slowly, he has made his name throughout the county as a threat to win any meet he enters.

And he will compete in this weekend's USF/Jesuit Invitational at Ed Radice Park fresh off of an appearance in last year's state meet.

At that meet, Adams finished 20th overall in 16 minutes, 7 seconds. The time was 17 seconds slower than his personal best, but the place was exactly where he was hoping for, especially considering it was his first time at a meet of that caliber on an unfamiliar course.

This year is different.

The state meet will be held at Radice Park on a course Adams can test out any time he wants. That has him aiming higher. "I want a top-10 finish," Adams said.

"I can get a taste of the course before anyone else, go up there whenever I feel like it."

While a top 10 at state is up in the air, one thing you can count on is Adams enjoying a nice, big Mexican dinner the night before.

That's what he and Crews did before state last year, and it has become a ritual before big meets. A couple enchiladas and some spicy rice, and Adams is ready to go.

"I had the Mexican food the night before and ran one of my best times ever," said Adams who is set to graduate with honors and hopes to attend South Florida next year.

"It makes you feel lighter the next morning."

Crews said the high carbohydrate content in Mexican food helps Adams perform better. That and the fact the 17-year old is one of the most mentally tough kids he has seen. "He's got a lot of talent as far as good body form and good cardiovascular and slow twitch muscles," Crews said. "But he is so mentally tough in a race. The guy's a competitor. At state last year, he ran a real smart race.

"I've had guys who run 100 miles a week and can run 4:20 miles. But when they line up, they just fell apart. It's so frustrating to have a kid like that. Nathan is tough."

Introducing:

NATHAN ADAMS

AGE: 17

GRADE POINT AVERAGE: 3.60

FAVORITE FOOD: Enchiladas

LAST BOOK READ: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

FAVORITE COLOR: Blue

FAVORITE NUMBER: 56

FAVORITE MOVIE: Hannibal

FAVORITE RESTAURANT: Wendy's

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