Elijah Inuwa says he hated cross-country when he started competing as a freshman at Central Academy.Inuwa wanted to run the 400-meter dash, like his mother, Kim, who ran the 400-meter hurdles in high school in California and then in college at Fresno State. But with the encouragement of his mom and his head coach, Field Miller, Inuwa learned to love running long distances and discovered he’s quite good at it. “When Elijah came in as a freshman he was new to the sport, but I could tell he had a lot of natural talent,” Miller said. “While I knew he didn’t love it yet, he was very self motivated and had a strong work ethic. So, I knew he had what it took to be a good runner.” Inuwa showed glimpses of his potential in cross-country, finishing 19th at the Rocky River conference (RRC) meet and 32nd at states his first year competing.Then, in the spring in outdoor track, Inuwa won the 800-meter run at the RRC championships, which gave him momentum. “I still remember winning that race and how much it motivated me,” Inuwa said. “That summer, I started telling myself every day when I woke up that I was going to win a state championship (in 800). I did that every day from the fall to the winter to the spring. It pushed me to work hard on a daily basis.” Inuwa’s hard work also paid off in cross-country where, as a sophomore, with his breakout meet coming at the Union County Championships at Winthrop University. He posted a time of 16:24.97 to finish as runner-up to then-Weddington senior Tanner Glackin. While Inuwa didn’t win the race, he established himself a runner to be reckoned with. “I sort of came out nowhere and posted a great time last year at the Union County Championships,” Inuwa said. Inuwa carried his success throughout the rest of the cross-country season, finishing as 1A Midwest Regional runner-up (16:47), while also placing 11th at states (16:54.71), despite battling knee tendonitis. While he was proud of his finish, it was one spot short of making the all-state team.“I remember with a half-mile to go, I was sixth- or seventh-place and I was trying to get it out,” Inuwa said. “I started counting the runners in front of me in my head and I was trying to stay ahead of people and then pass people if I could. I finished .26 seconds out of being all-state. While it was a little disappointing, in the end, it just motivated me to work harder.” Inuwa continued his success into the spring, where he won a conference and regional title in the 800-meter, and 3,200-meter run at regionals. But he also won a 1A state championship in the 800. He worked harder than ever this past summer, running 50-70 miles per week in preparation for the cross-country season, according to Miller. He also worked on his speed, as Inuwa has an unusual versatility that many long distance runners don’t have. “Elijah has a range from the 400-meter all the way to the 5K (5,000-meter),” Miller said. “We could throw him in just about any race. Whenever he steps on the track, he believes he’s a contender to win it. He has the confidence to win now, too.” Inuwa, 16, has carried his championship-level performance and confidence into this fall, where he’s been better than ever. Inuwa won the Union County Championships (16:34.8), beating out talented runners like Weddington’s Ryan Hobbs (runner-up at same meet). He also won the Rocky River 2A/3A conference title (17:03), earning him the RRC runner of the year honors.But his best performance to date came at the Weddington Invitational, where he ran a personal-best 16:20 to finish sixth overall.Now, the Central Academy junior has his focus on breaking the 16-minute barrier and contending for both a 2A Midwest Regional and (2A) state title, which will both be decided at Beeson Park in Kernersville. Inuwa is ranked No. 1 in the region.He hopes his team has success in the season’s most important races of the season, as the Rocky River conference champions also boast Alec Merrill, Parker Colbath, Josh Weirich and Matt Riordan in their top five.But no matter what happens, Inuwa will keep running.He hopes to earn a scholarship to run cross-country and track, just like his mother. While college interest is just starting, according Miller, Inuwa says his dream school would be the University of Oregon, but he also likes N.C. State.“I definitely want to keep running in college,” Inuwa said. “Right now, I’m just focused on doing everything I can do get that chance.” Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at email@example.com.
Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013
Runner setting the pace at Central Academy
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