Race car driver and raconteur Reece Bobby said it best, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”
Sean Stuck knows that. At last spring’s Virginia 6A track championships, he brought up the rear in the 1600 meters, finishing just 16 seconds out of first place. Fortunately, he won the 3200 meters.
Sometimes races go well and sometimes they don’t, and for Stuck, it’s much more more of the former, lately. Since he hit is growth spurt after his freshman year and dropped baseball, he has found a home on West Springfield’s top seven, and he’s an integral part of the Spartans’ state title hopes this fall.
“Sean’s main strength is that he doesn’t fear anybody or anything,” said West Springfield coach Chris Pellegrini. “That governor in everyone’s brain that tells people they maybe shouldn’t do something, that gives them doubt? He just doesn’t have that; his confidence exists in that moment of truth during races.”
A case in point: The plan for that ultimately-victorious 3200 meters was for Stuck to stay on Western Branch star Chase Osborne, at whatever the risk, to give Stuck a crack at him over the last 200 meters.
“We felt he could outkick him in the end,” Pellegrini said.
What the Spartans didn’t expect was that Osborne would try to burn the field out over the last two laps, running 600 meters in 1:32 before Stuck ultimately got the edge, as planned, closing in 2:05 for the last half mile for a four-second victory in 9:18.
“There was nothing in his training that would indicate he could do that,” Pellegrini said. “We found out that day he could do it.”
It was a quick improvement for Stuck, who claims he was “really bad” as a freshman.
“I was just sitting on a bench one day and my friend asked me if I wanted to come run cross country,” he said. “I said why not, I should try new things in high school.”
He bore little resemblance to the tall senior he has grown into, and a year later, after taking the track season off to play baseball, he was back on the grass and facing a cold reality.
“Coach came right out and said I was going to have a rough year because I hadn’t been running much over the summer,” Stuck said.
It was rough, but by the end of the fall it had smoothed out. He improved to 15:57 on Burke Lake’s 2.98 mile course from a 17:25 starting point in September. He would up 25th at the state championship, forming the core of a team that would grow together with classmates Chris Weeks and Sam Pritchard.
Though the three admit they spent a little too much time beating each other up in practice that year, Stuck credits them with helping him develop his kick.
A year later, he was ninth at the state meet for a team that finished a close second to W.T. Woodson. As they figure out who will help them take that last step, it means sifting through some applicants on the team. What are they looking for?
“Good teammates, runners who are balanced between the hard days and the easy days,” Stuck said. “If they can stay humble and focus on what we are trying to do together, we want them on board.”
He wants to continue running long after his high school and college careers are over.
“I want to be able to run every day of my life,” he said. “I like feeling fit, I like being active. It helps me sleep at night.”
What tries to keep him up at night is distracted driving among his peers. His solution to texting and driving? Make everyone drive a manual transmission.