Bryant running away with it
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Monday, Nov. 18, 2013

Bryant running away with it

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- MELODY BRYANT
SouthLake Christian runner Joe Bryant enters the homestretch at the Hare and Hounds Invitational meet at Charlotte’s McAlpine Park on Sept. 21.

Joe Bryant grew up the youngest of three boys in the Bryant family.

Things were competitive at home, with Joe – two years younger than Sam and five younger than Kyle – using his brothers’ accomplishments as benchmarks when his turn came.

“I was always the smallest one and behind them,” Bryant said. “But seeing them do well gave me the motivation to try to be where they were at when I got to be their age.”

When Joe was in seventh grade, Kyle joined the cross-country team at SouthLake Christian Academy and excelled beyond anyone’s expectations, graduating in 2009 as the fastest runner in school history with a 5-kilometer course record of 17 minutes, 44 seconds.

“Kyle only ran for one year, and he ended up being amazing at it,” Bryant said. “I wanted to be just like him.”

The year after Kyle’s record-setting season, Joe – who was still only in eighth grade at the time – showed up at a SouthLake Christian cross-country invitational meet.

“I remember he really enjoyed the team atmosphere,” SouthLake Christian cross-country coach Trish Shank said. “He sort of caught the bug and all of a sudden loved running. He really talked about the family aspect of the team. I think that day he just found the desire and delight in the running.”

It’s surprising how it all worked out, because 2 miles into that race, Shank got a call from Bryant wondering if he actually had to finish. Shank reassured him and promised to have water waiting for him at the finish line.

“I felt like I wanted to try to run in a 5K just to see what it was like and to be better prepared for high school,” Bryant said. “I was about halfway through, and I was hitting a hill and I had never ran more than 2 miles before in a race, and I was struggling a little bit.”

Bryant wound up finishing in the middle of the pack but went home more motivated than ever.

Five years later, Joe – who has been named to the all-Metrolina Athletic Conference team four times – is set to graduate from SouthLake Christian with all of the school records that once belonged to Kyle.

He actually broke Kyle’s record his sophomore season, but on a short course, so he never counted it. However, midway through his junior season, he broke the record again, this time on a full-length course.

“It felt really good because my brother was pretty much the one who got me started with cross-country,” Bryant said. “He was my motivation. Beating that record wasn’t my main focus in cross country, but it was a good feeling breaking that, it really was.”

Kyle wasn’t the kind of brother who cared about his records being broken, either. He continued to help Joe train after he graduated, often heading over to the local track to run with his younger brother.

“I would always run with Kyle at the track after he graduated and he’d just try to teach me how to pace myself and be disciplined,” Bryant said. “He really helped me with that. I don’t know if I would be even close to where I am now without him.

“He was happy for me. He knew in his heart that it would end up happening. He just helped me the whole time and wasn’t upset at all that I broke his record.”

In his senior year, Joe set his mind to breaking the 17-minute mark. He trained all season and eventually finished a race in 17:01. A personal record, that remains bittersweet because of how close it came to his goal for the season.

“I am very proud,” said Bryant, who went on to place fourth at the MAC conference meet. “It’s just that I know I was that close to getting my goal. A 17:01, I’m happy with that. I’m happy with how I trained and stuff, and I’m just looking forward to the future.”

As a senior, this was a special year for Bryant.

“It was a pretty emotional season,” he said. “I’ve been running for five years, so I tried to make it as memorable as possible and tried to achieve my goal of breaking 17. It didn’t work out, but I trained hard, and I’m not disappointed.”

And he shouldn’t be, said Shank, whose team placed second at the conference championship with an average finishing time of 17:59 – the fastest in school history.

“Kyle and Joe really have brought up the level of the team because they pursued it so much that it got contagious,” Shank said. “They just set the tone for the program and have been great to coach.”

Seth Lakso is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Seth? Email him at sethlakso@gmail.com .

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