By Thomas Sellers Jr.
To reach the Division I Large School State Cross Country meet takes hours of hard work, sweat, conditioning and heart. The best in Tennessee who competed in the 2018 State Meet at Percy Warner Park in Nashville know those sacrifices well.
But one runner who raced in Nashville this past weekend understands the importance of every heartbeat. Munford senior Erik Walters led a group of Cougars to State, the first for a team in school history.
Walters has the best time at 18:04 of the pride featuring Zerick Brown, Ethan Pacileo, Ashton Rogers, Jackson Taranto, Michael Andrews and Brian Yang.
The senior quartet of Brown, Andrews, Taranto and Walters reached their goal of getting the team up to State. Munford Cross Country Coach Thomas Walters has guided the young men and watched them mature into top flight runners since the middle school years.
The one Cougar he is most familiar with is his son Erik.
“He’s been doing this since he as 7 years old,” Coach Walters noted. “Guys like Zerick Brown and Ethan Pacileo have ran with him since middle school and ran with him 3 years there. Michael Andrews ran with him in middle school at least one year. You’ve got a kid like Jackson Taranto who has been here for four years. Brian Yang is in his second year and Ashton Rogers is a freshman doing very well. We’ve brought these guys up through the years.”
The years have been tough for Walters as a father of a son suffering from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. WPW is a syndrome that affects the heart’s beating pattern. In WPW an extra electrical pathway between your heart’s upper and lower chambers causes a rapid heartbeat.
“He had two heart procedures done, both which were unsuccessful,” Coach Walters said. “He now treats it with medication. It took 7 months and they finally cleared him for all activities as long as he keeps medicated.”
Erik was faced with the tough decision entering high school to pursue his passion for running. After several test and conversations with doctors, Coach Walters was advised the risk for his son’s heart to stop was the same running as laying in the bed watching TV.
Walters went to his son and asked him what did he want to do. “Dad, I love running,” was his response.
Now when Erik is on any course, Coach Walter said his heart beats with his son’s pace.
“I am thinking about it — every step he takes. I get through it with lots of caffeine,” he said jokingly.
Erik and his teammates have dedicated themselves to the purpose of reaching State. The Cougars stepped onto the Iriquois Steeplechase course at Percy Warner Park. The venue is the longtime home of the TSSAA State Cross Country Championships.
Munford entered the State Meet ranked No. 24 out of 24 teams.
“We want to beat some people,” Walters said. “They’re is only one path for us. You can only go up from here.”
Part of going up is athletes like Erik, Taranto and Lexi Collins pursing college scholarships for cross country.
Walters said future signings will add to the legacy of this group of Cougars. But the highlight of 2018-19 school year is Erik, Zerick, Michael, Jackson, Brian, Ashton and Ethan reaching their goal. Chester County took first with a score of 90 on Oct. 23 at the Regional Meet. Dyersburg finished second with 95 and Munford earned third and a qualifying spot with 101.
“I know it sounds cliché but they wanted to go,” Coach Walters concluded. “They wanted to go to State. That’s been the goal since the start of the year. I didn’t care unless we got to Regionals and finished first, second or third. I just want to finish first, second or third. They made it.”
The Cougars were winners of the Gibson County Invitational, Cougar Classic, Lexington Tiger Run and Covington Invitational during the 2018 season.
At State, Walters clocked in the 176th best time at 19:15.16. Andrews came in at 173 with a time of 19:24.42. Right behind him was Brown with a time of 19:26.02. Taranto earned the 178th spot with a time of 19:32.34.
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