Fort Worth Christian junior Carter Cheeseman runs at Foot Locker South Region
"As I crossed the bridge onto McAlpine Greenway and looked to my right, I realized that 35 years earlier -- my junior year in 1982 -- I set my tarp and bag in almost the same place that Cathy and Carter chose for him to set up before the race," said Mr. Ken Cheeseman.
Cathy Cheeseman is the wife, mother, and coach of Carter Cheeseman, the third of four children that Ken Cheeseman would refer to. The "35 years" references the amount of time passed until his wife and son put together the type of season that resulted in Carter qualifying to run at Foot Locker South Regionals, just as Mr. Cheeseman did when it was called the "Kinney Regionals." McAlpine Greenway is the course site in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the South Region is annually held.
At Alpine Greenway, Ken Cheeseman challenged the best of the best in the South region of the U.S. and eventually qualified out of the South Region to the Kinney Nationals to take on the the country's absolute best.
NXN Results and Photos
Two weeks ago, led by mother-coach Cathy, Carter ran on the exact same course as his father did and successfully accomplished the exact same opportunity and will run this weekend at the Foot Locker Nationals.
Over three decades later, things have changed a little bit. Mr. Cheeseman said, "The early 1980s were so different than today. Back then, we knew the guys we raced against in our own states. For me in Florida, I had two amazingly talented and tough competitors in Brian Jaegar and Billy Convey, who were first and second in the South Region."
With the development of the world wide web, information sharing is nearly light speed. Publicity and coverage of sports has vastly improved and results are almost instant, unlike in the 80s.
"We could learn about other athletes around the country from our monthly Harrier Magazine and Track and Field News and occasionally through USA Today, but we had no instant access to other state's runners. So, we were much more uninformed about whom we were going to be racing at the U.S. regional and national levels. Nonetheless, there was much excitement about testing oneself against the best in the Southern U.S.; I experienced a mixture of confidence and a little doubt about whether I was good enough to be among the final 32 runners(only 8 from each of the 4 regions back then) at the only national championship in cross country. I was blessed to be among that group by the end of the regional championship. Representing the South was an honor; I remember putting on that South singlet with pride and determination."
"I didn't really feel pressure to perform for either of my parents. I knew they would support me and be proud of me whether I made it or not, but it was really fun to be able to see their smiles when I crossed the line. They have invested just as much energy as I have into this season, and I am very appreciative."
Carter Cheeseman - Fort Worth Christian Junior
All of these years later, for Carter, the accomplishment is just as humbling as it was for his dad. "I feel really just blessed. It's not an opportunity that many high school runners get to have, and now finally reaching a goal that I have had since I was little, just makes me feel thankful for all the people in my life who have helped me get to this point and thankful to God for allowing me to get to a meet like this."
What could have been a stressful situation for a young athlete, was actually nothing of the sort. There were no feelings of living up to expectations or dreams to follow in dad's footsteps or standards and expectations of coach/mom. "I didn't really feel pressure to perform for either of my parents. I knew they would support me and be proud of me whether I made it or not, but it was really fun to be able to see their smiles when I crossed the line. They have invested just as much energy as I have into this season, and I am very appreciative."
In fact, there wasn't even much thought at all given as to how it would be to do what dad did. Carter said, "I wasn't really thinking about that as I crossed the line, but I've heard the stories and seen the pictures of my dad when he made it out to Footlocker, and now having my own experience, it's really fun to relate to all that."
Carter has had a season full of outstanding accomplishments. Transitioning from one school and state to new ones are significant enough to acknowledge. However, that was just the beginning. When the season started, Carter started running just as hot as the weather is in Texas. He opened up his season with a
15:01.70 followed by a 14:42.44 that had him ranked #1 in the nation.
That was just the beginning, as the Tennessee transfer would win TAPPS district and TAPPS state titles in route to a Nike Cross Regional South Title. Fresh off of his first NXN nationals race last week, Cheeseman will look to take advantage of a smaller, less convoluted, and more intimate national race at Foot Locker.
"Recognize the moment and enjoy it; it may never come around again. Enjoy it, yet remember not to allow the enjoyment to negatively affect your willingness and ability to run your very best, whatever that is."
As a former elite level runner, Mr. Cheeseman definitely knows how much effort and dedication it takes to run at the national level and he admires his son's accomplishments up to this point of the season. "I admire my son for the godly young man he is becoming, reflected, in part, in his effort and dedication. When I think of this season and the gift that it is to me, I don't think just of Carter. I think of the extraordinary partnership that has been formed between coach/mother and athlete/son in the crucible of a major life change for all of us. Watching and listening to the two of them face the obstacles in front of them with grit, determination, sacrifice, and faith makes me glad-hearted and grateful."
So, what are the types of advice does a father give his son about to embark on such an elite sports moment?
Mr. Cheeseman says, "One bit of advice that I learned best from Cathy and reinforce with Carter is to stick to the routines that have helped him perform at and near his best -- do not change much from the small, important pieces to the bigger parts of training in the run up to Footlocker".
"The second bit of counsel is about the race itself: be as specific as possible about the foci of the race. When young athletes take those first steps from the local and regional level to the national level, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the excitement of the event and race and lose focus in the middle of the race, waking up near the finish line, disappointed by where one finished. Focusing on a few specific goals within the race helps one finish near where they hope and intend, which may not be on the podium, where he or she is used to finishing at the local and regional level."
About his dad's advice, Carter says, "He has been able to walk me through the in and outs of competing at the front of big time races, and has helped me with my mindset during these races."
With dad giving advice from personal experiences and mom being a former collegiate runner as well, Carter has access to two people who are extremely knowledgeable about both him and his sport. "I think it definitely helps to have two people who know so much about the sport and have had experience in it. No matter who your parents are, it takes a lot of hard work to cultivate any talent you have, and I am especially appreciative of my parents for instilling a strong work ethic in me, which has helped me make the necessary sacrifices to get to these national meets."
When looking back on his race at Kinney Nationals (Foot Locker), Mr. Cheeseman has some specific advice for Carter about this weekend's race. "Recognize the moment and enjoy it; it may never come around again. Injury, illness, interest and other of life's challenges often change the path you think you are headed down, so you may not be given this moment ever again. Enjoy it, yet remember not to allow the enjoyment to negatively affect your willingness and ability to run your very best, whatever that is."
The Cheesemans have been a part of two cross country rich states in Tennessee and Texas. They have also coached and watched Carter race at one National Championship race this season and will watch him race in another on this weekend at Foot Locker. Mr. Cheeseman hasn't only observed Carter during that time.
"American distance running is so much deeper and stronger now than when I was a high schooler; I am pleased that we have a much stronger presence internationally than we did then. My junior year I ran 4:07.1 for 1600 meters my junior year in 1983 and I had one of the top 3 to 5 times in the country most of the year. I am happy to see that my time would not crack the top 20 1600/mile times the last few years. Additionally, the science of the sport, particularly in how we help our athletes recover from the wear and tear of hard workouts and prevent injuries, has improved immensely."
This weekend Carter Cheeseman and 40 other top individual boys and girls cross country runners in the nation will race at the 2017 Foot Locker Nationals to try to become the top distance runner in the nation.