Grand Haven's student publication of community significance since 1927

The Bucs' Blade

Grand Haven's student publication of community significance since 1927

The Bucs' Blade

Grand Haven's student publication of community significance since 1927

The Bucs' Blade

Committed to Improvement

Senior Roman Smith’s Remarkable Cross Country Career
Team+captain+Roman+Smith+runs+past+the+map+of+the+GHHS+cross+country+course+where+he+ran+his+first+race.+I+just+stuck+with+it+and+I+grew+to+love+it+and+its+a+big+part+of+my+life+now%2C+Smith+said.
Peter Ver Duin
Team captain Roman Smith runs past the map of the GHHS cross country course where he ran his first race. “I just stuck with it and I grew to love it and it’s a big part of my life now,” Smith said.

Until the summer before his freshman year, senior Roman Smith had never seriously trained as a runner, but with the pandemic having shut down almost all school and club sports, Smith’s parents pushed him to run to keep active going into high school. With this encouragement, he dove head-first into the cross-country workouts.

“I remember the first time I went [running], it was the loop from my house around the church and back, it’s maybe two miles,” Smith said. “I was dying.”

But he didn’t let those underwhelming first runs, and the demotivation that comes with them, stop him. Instead, he started showing up to summer practices and was soon in the official season when the head coach, John Tarr, noticed something different about Smith.

The Boys Varsity team walks to practice. “I averaged about 50 [miles] most weeks,” Smith said. “Our peak week this year was 55. That was a long week, but it paid off and we’ve been running really well since that.”
“He had a pretty good work ethic,” Tarr said. “He wanted to get better and wanted to run hard.”

Smith had a very unusual first year, with the pandemic, teams shifted from large invitationals to smaller dual meets where only two schools ran against each other. Despite this chaos, Smith showed consistent improvement throughout the season. He ultimately ran his final race of the season in 18:46 becoming one of two freshmen that year to earn a varsity letter.

Smith continued with cross country in his sophomore year. Only this time, he was starting with the experience of a full season under his belt, as well as having run track in the spring. It only took three meets for him to break his PR from the year prior. Despite this improvement, he wasn’t quite fast enough to run on varsity.

“He was kind of pushing the edge of the varsity group,” Tarr said. “But we had a lot of good varsity guys that year, and he wasn’t quite making it.”

Despite not running varsity, Smith managed something unbelievable.

Smith running on his home turf for an easy week before his last meet of the season. “He had a pretty good work ethic,” coach John Tarr said. “He wanted to get better and wanted to run hard.”

He set a school record.

It wasn’t a normal record by any stretch of the imagination, rather, a unique set of circumstances revolving around an agitated bee’s nest in the last mile of the course. Due to the severe risk of death for those stung mid-race, the course was shortened down to 3900m from the standard 5000m after the varsity heats concluded. With Smith at the front of the JV squad, he sped to a quick school record of 13:47 and a solid 4th place.

Being able to adapt to, and take advantage of, the chaotic environment erased any doubt in his mind that he wasn’t cut out for the sport.

“I just stuck with it and I grew to love it and it’s a big part of my life now,” Smith said.

With a school record to his name, and a fresh sub-18 PR to boot, Smith entered his junior year on the varsity team. 

With the team winning the first two jamboree meets, they secured the first half of the conference title. But the conference meet, weighted for the other 50 percent, approached quickly and Smith knew that he had to run his absolute best as even one or two places worse could cost the team the championship trophy. 

“I do the same thing every time,” Smith said. “I do some jumps to get my hamstrings going, my knees up and then I’ll just stare at a spot in the ground and erase everything else from my head. Except for the race.”

His focus paid off massively as he ran under 17 minutes at the conference meet, helping the team secure the championship by a monstrous 12 points.

Despite these major accomplishments, his senior year would show his biggest improvement. Now a team captain, Smith hit the ground hard, running 40 miles a week by the start of the school year. 

Smith races fellow captain Carson Berko to the edge of the field as they warm up for practice. “Several parents have said to me, that they really appreciate him on the team,” head coach Tarr said. “He helps a lot of younger runners.”

“From there, we gradually worked up,” Smith said. “I averaged about 50 [miles] most weeks. Our peak week this year was 55. That was a long week, but it paid off and we’ve been running really well since that.”

And run well he did, making leaps and bounds as his personal best dropped almost every race. 

“He had just a remarkable improvement this year from his junior year and became all-conference,” Tarr said.

This culminated at the regional meet when Smith ran a blistering fast 15:59.45. A fantastic personal record that, when it was set, put him as the seventh fastest runner in Grand Haven history becoming one of only 10 runners to break 16 minutes. 

“This is what my whole season has been going for,” Smith said. “This was my big goal … I didn’t think I’d ever be this fast.”

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Peter Ver Duin, Editor

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