Michael Dilks didn't enjoy running when he first started.
You wouldn't know it to look at the Mount Pleasant junior's four first-place finishes this season, but he wasn't always the runner he is today.
"I ran a 7:50 mile in the seventh grade," explained Dilks. "And I ran the 800 meter in 2:45. I didn't think I was any good, I didn't have any speed. So I just quit in races. I didn't like it."
Dilks, a long-time swimmer whose specialties are the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, tried running again as a way to stay in shape for his swim season.
This time instead of track and field he went out to run cross country, and he hasn't looked back.
During the summer, Dilks ran at the Appalachian State training camp, which he said really kick-started his season this year.
"I started running 50- 60 miles a week," said Dilks. "I'm getting better nutrition. I've gotten really serious about running as my second sport."
In his first year running cross country, Dilks said he was decent with his best finish being 19:16. He started out this season at the Aug. 31 pre-conference meet running a 17:33 and coming in second place behind Jay M. Robinson's Braedon Koerwitz by 21 seconds. Since then, Dilks has had some extremely close races, showing the drive to win he never had when he was seventh grade track dropout.
On Sept. 7 at Cox Mill, Dilks strategy at the finish line to edge out Cox Mill's Lucas Baity didn't quite go as planned.
"We were dead even when we came onto the football field," said Dilks. "When we passed the goal post we were still dead even and I started sprinting."
As they got closer to the finish line, Dilks said he could feel his feet go out from under him, and instead of edging Baity out in the end, he skidded across the finished line, leaving still healing scars on his shoulders and wrists.
"You could call it a forward lean gone awry," he said, laughing.
Baity finished first at 17:49, Dilks came in second at 17:50.
But the experience didn't get Dilks down, it only helped him hone his technique. On Oct. 5, at Concord, when he rounded the corner neck and neck with another runner, this time Dilks finished upright and in first having dropped his time to 16:55.
He also medaled at the Wendy's Invitational, finishing in fifth place with a personal best time of 16:23, a whole minute improvement from the beginning of the season.
"Needless to say Michael is having a sensational junior year," said Mount Pleasant cross country coach Bob Cachine. "He's a really hard worker and it has paid off for him this season."
Cachine's small squad is competitive, but Dilks will most likely be the only Tiger runner with a chance to qualify for the Nov. 6 state championship meet.
Despite swimming still being his first love, Dilks no longer looks at running with a defeatist attitude.
And the change in outlook shows.
"I know how much determination he has," said Nicole Dilks, Michael's mom.
So if another race comes down to a tight finish, his team and family have no doubt how it will turn out.
"We knows he will either win, or die trying," Dilks' mom said. "Or rather 'dive' trying."