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Cross country keeps Grady focused
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Alex Grady's next big task is to lead Newton in the NewRock cross country meet on Thursday.

However, that's just the next task and by no means the grandest, the most ambitious or his most important.

After all, one of the main reasons Grady enjoys running so much is to keep all his thoughts and tasks straight.

The Newton High School junior is not only on track to return to the state cross country meet but also to be valedictorian, earn a track and academic scholarship and attend one of the country's top schools.

Grady started running for fun in elementary school before he decided to pursue it competitively in middle school. After arriving at Newton High and participating in its track and field program, his coach Patrick Parsons, suggested he get involved in cross country so he could condition himself for the following track season.

Since his first year as a cross country runner in 2010, Grady, who won the NewRock meet that season, has been one of the area's top runners, winning region a year ago and finishing 13th in the Class AAAAA meet.

Even though his first sport is still track, cross country has led him toward state-wide success and yet another run to hang his hat on.

"My heart is in track, I've been doing it more," Grady said. "But with cross country, I can't complain, because it's really, really fun."

If winning has any correlation with how fun a sport can be, then it's plain to see why Grady is really enjoying cross country as of late.

He has won two races so far this season, at Newton and Athens Academy, competed in an invitational at Berry College, finishing sixth and has been looked upon as the Rams' leader.

"Alex is a rare individual," Newton cross country coach Aaron Robinson said. "He requires little in the way of motivation from his coaches or teachers because he possesses an internal motivation like I've never seen."

That motivation has carried Grady throughout not only a stellar athletic career, but also a stellar academic career.

Grady is, or has been, involved with the math team (he is the captain), the BETA Club, National Honor Society and the student government, in which he is currently running for senior class president. On top of all that, Grady is pursuing a valedictorian nomination, filling out scholarship and college applications and tutoring around five hours a week.

With so much going on, running for a half hour or more a day becomes more than just a fun activity, but a necessary release for a young man with a bright, but busy future ahead of him.

"It gives me a lot of thinking time," Grady said. "It's a way for me to channel my energy and it helps me to relax a lot. When I run, I'm usually able to go down the list, ‘am I forgetting anything? What's really important that I need to focus on?' I can organize what I have to do later on. That really settles a lot of the tension because I do have a lot going on."

Other than mentioning his busy slate when prompted, the Newton High student athlete hasn't let it get to him or overshadow the humble nature, in which he presents himself. Robinson has worked with Grady for three years, leading him to not only continue to be impressed with his work ethic but also to trust him as a leader of the growing Newton cross country team.

"Alex is not one to focus only on himself, however," Robinson said. "He is a leader on the team and as much by actions as with words; he helps motivate his teammates to better performances."

Thursday, Grady was conducting practice while the dozen or so other cross country members not only followed his lead but kept up with what the All-State runner was doing throughout Newton's training trail, stretching throughout the backside of campus around a wooded around, tracing the Yellow River and coming back up on Brown Bridge Road.

Grady is now hoping to lead the Rams to a first-place team performance at the NewRock meet, which will bookmark his high school career with wins in the cross-county event. Grady won NewRock a year ago, but his team finished second, something he said he wasn't satisfied with.

A Newton win this year will certainly add to his cross country highlights as the season winds, but there is tough competition for the top spot, which may only be taken by a strong state meet finish.

The 2011 state meet is currently Grady's biggest athletic achievement, ranking among the elite of Class AAAAA's top runners in only his second season as a cross country runner. Grady ran in a time of 16:29, good enough for 13th on what he calls, "a very, very difficult course."

"There was a lot of competition, it really had me working at my highest potential," Grady said. "I was honored to run in the state meet for cross country last year. It taught me a lot and it gave me the goals I want to hit this year."
Along with a strong showing at state, Grady's highest goal is to set a new personal record before he heads off to college, and thus far it seems like that goal is a possibility.

"I'm really, really happy with my times so far; it's showing that my summer workouts and previous seasons have paid off," Grady said. "You usually don't peak until the end of the season but the times I'm showing now are a really good standard for maybe a PR (personal record) later on."

He hopes to one day lower his personal best times to that of Olympic qualifying equivalent times, to one day make tracks biggest stage. Currently his fastest time in the 1,600-meter event is 4:20, and when translated down to the 1,500, the Olympic qualifying distance comes out to 4:15, which is still a ways off from 2012's qualifying time of 3:43.45.

The country's most advanced runners, though, usually start running trials in college, a destination that Grady most definitely has his sights set on. He is currently weighing through options to run track during his undergrad while pursuing a mechanical engineering degree and then going on for an aerospace engineering degree in graduate school.

Ideally, he said he would like to attend Stanford, but Georgia Tech and Villanova are also on his wish list as he heads toward graduation and pursues a track career.

"If I can get into Stanford, that would be awesome," Grady said.

"It's an awesome track program and the best engineering program in the nation. If I could get in into graduate school it would be good for sure, but undergraduate school would be awesome."