Providence Day cross country runner Jack Paddison spent most of his career chasing his Charger teammates.
The senior watched and worked with some of the school’s best runners, such as classmate and best friend Nick Linder, and former Providence Day standouts like Ben Huffman (now running at Harvard) and Reed Payne (Elon).
But Paddison saved his best for last, taking the CISAA conference and NCISAA 3A state championships in back-to-back weeks.
At the CISAA conference meet, Paddison, 17, ran the best 800-meter split of his life (2 minutes, 8 seconds) to pass Linder and run a personal-best 15:19, the second-best time ever run by a Charger at McAlpine Creek Park. Huffman ran a 14:44 last year and Linder is third all-time at 15:25.
At the NCISAA 3A state meet, Paddison out-sprinted Linder in the last 500 meters to win in 15:48.14 at Jackson Park in Hendersonville.
The Providence Day boys’ cross country team also won its fifth straight state title and 15th straight conference crown.
“It’s all still a little surreal that I won the (individual) conference and state championships,” said Paddison, who was a swimmer before starting cross country in ninth grade after being encouraged by Linder. “I approached both races just wanting to win. It’s unfortunate that I had to race my best friend. In no way did I want to beat Nick, I just wanted to come out on top.”
Paddison’s last two races were a culmination of hard work.
“I believe Jack’s last two races and results were a culmination of confidence taken from realizing just what he was capable of doing,” said Providence Day cross country coach Ben Hovis, a 1996 graduate in his 13th year as head coach. “I think it all started in the last month of the season at the Great American Festival (15:38.52 for 14th-place) and then we had a time trial at our track and he ran a 4:18.4 1,600-meter. All of those things really gave him a lot of confidence going into the final few weeks of the season.”
Paddison has steadily improved since he started running at Providence Day. He finished 13th at states his freshman year, eighth his sophomore year and fourth at the NCISAA 3A meet last year with a time of 15:45.
The 5-foot-9, 145-pound senior did all of that while also playing lacrosse in the spring and summer.
Last spring, Paddison made the decision to fully commit himself to this cross country season.
“In the past, I’ve never had the opportunity build that great base of mileage in the summer,” Paddison said. “This summer it was great to get to work. Coach Hovis trains us to peak at the conference and the state meet. He’s got it down to science.”
Paddison and most of the Providence Day team was running up to 65 miles per week over the summer.
Paddison said working with Linder – and Huffman in the past – has also allowed him to flourish.
“My times and my goals would have never where they are now without the guys I’ve been chasing my entire, Providence Day career,” Paddison said.
This summer was also the first time Hovis heard Paddison express an interest in pursuing a college cross country and track career.
“I had told to Jack that I believed he had the talent to be a Division I runner if it was something he wanted to pursue,” Hovis said. “But this summer when we were at our team camp in Blowing Rock (in July), Jack asked me how to write a letter to college coaches expressing an interest to run cross country, but also explaining that he hadn’t run outdoor track (in his entire Providence Day career).”
Despite the unconventional path Paddison has taken, he says he’s been talking with coaches at both Brown University and North Carolina.
Paddison, who has a 4.51 GPA, has decided not to run at the Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional or this spring in the outdoor season, but he will continue to stay in shape.
“I definitely want to keep running in college and I’ve worked really hard to try to get that opportunity,” said Paddison, who would like to major in environmental engineering or environmental science in college. “My high school running career has not been conventional, it’s been different. But I don’t think that is a bad thing. I feel like I can build off what I’ve done at Providence Day and continue to get better.”