A. J. Windless
A photo of A. J. Windless crossing the finish line in the mile run. 
A Strong Work Ethic
As a junior, I was an upperclassman now. I was no longer a freshman or sophomore, out there experimenting with track and trying to find out what I could do. Now I was someone the team was depending on for solid points. In one more year I would be graduating, so now was the time to start making my goals a reality. I responded by dramatically increasing my work load. As a member of the track team I was exempt from gymn class, so I used that time to work out. I often ran in the morning before school, and I always worked out with the track team, so frequently I was running three times in one day. I also stayed late after practice, pushing in, for example, 10 extra quarter mile runs. In January of my junior year, two months prior to the start of track practice, I ran the 100 yard dash 32 times in one workout. Two days later I ran the 220 yard dash 32 times.

Prior to our first meet I got shin splints, which are quite common in distance running. Nothing is broken, but runners frequently overdevelop running muscles while leaving other muscles insufficiently developed, which causes imbalances in the muscle structure and creates a strong tension and a painful ache on the shins. For two weeks prior to my first race I could only run a couple of times, but I seemed to be on the mend by the time we bussed to Red Bank Valley, where we were greeted with a sky full of snowflakes. I was accustomed to running with my sweatsuit on anyway, so for the first time in my career I decided to leave my sweats and hood on during the race. I won the 2 mile with a time of 10:41 and my coach told me that the guy I beat was their defending district champion. His coach told him that his runner was known for his finishing kick, so they were surprised that he was not able to beat me in the finish. My career long strategy, not only for the two mile run but even for the mile, was that I did not wait for the last 220 yards to kick in, instead I started pushing hard with 880 yards to go, and that usually left my competion behind.

I won the 2 mile in six of our regular meets, including the county championship where we faced Johnsonburg, Ridgeway, and St. Marys. In one of our meets, I lost to the young superstar, Terry Wile. Just a sophomore from Kane, he was a year behind me, but during our previous cross country season he had already given Andy Sorg a good scare. Although Andy beat him by 30 seconds in their first race, by the end of the season Andy could just barely beat him at the tape.

In additon to the seven regular meets I placed 4th at the Wellsville Invitational, 3rd at the Youngsville Invitational, and 2nd at the Catholic state championship with my best time of the year, 10:13.

Still my first love was the mile, which I only ran once during the season with a time of 4:49. After the season was over and the school year had ended, I ran in the Junior Olympics which gave me a real psychological boost, winning the districts at Clarion with a time of 4:37. Two weeks later I took 5th at the regionals in Oil City, New York with a time of 4:33. As close as I could determine it seemed that everyone who finished ahead of me was a graduating senior.

Andy Sorg's best junior time was 4:32. Throughout his senior season he seemed disappointed that he had only lowered the school record to 4:31. Then he and the coach got together and decided to really go after the school record. It was the end of the season, the Wellsville Invitational was coming up, and it had a fast synthetic track (believe it or not, one of the tracks we ran on that year was a slow, grinding, cinder track.) Andy always ran three events (we needed him in the maximum number of events allowed ) and he usually ran the 2-mile relay prior to his mile. Sometimes running his leg  as fast as 1:58, that took some of steam out of him for the mile run. He and the coach "conspired" to hold him out of the 2-mile relay. The old newspaper clipping I have here says that I ran in his stead, which surprises me because 1) Pennsylvania state law forbade high schoolers from running more than 2 miles in a track meet 2) I ran the two mile that day and 3) I don't even remember running the event.  But the meet was held in New York state where the laws were different and my scrapbook notes confirm that I ran my leg in 2:10. In Sorg's abscence our two mile relay team still took first place out of all the schools that competed.


So after not so secretly plotting with the coach behind closed doors, Andy Sorg lowered the school record to 4:23, winning first place and also setting a new Wellsville Invitational record. That became my senior year target, which had just moved 8 seconds further away from me. But it seemed much more obtainable now then it did a year ago, when as a sophomore I had only run 5:06 while Andy had already turned in a 4:32. Furthermore, next year our private school would participate in the public school districts and I would have a chance to qualify for the regionals and the state meet. The state championship had been run in about 4:15, so the ultimate question was could I beat 4:15 and win the state championship?

(Above: A photo from my senior year, probably the mile run at Emporium.)

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