Get to know sophomore cross country and track runner Keegan Smith
2022-23 Irish XC/TF
L to R: Radek Molchan, Mason Burkhardt, Evan Deichert, Keegan Smith, Gonzolo Vela, Emerion Woldemichael, Tony Ortega, Coach Sean O'Neil
1. How does it feel to win the Gatorade POY for the second straight year?
I feel blessed. Being a Gatorade POY is a revered honor. Athletes like Peyton Manning, Sydney McLaughlin, and Jayson Tatum are all former POYs. So for me to win the award for a second straight year, the list of athletes narrows even more. I am among an elite class of competitive athletes, each of whom work very hard to achieve their goals. I am blessed in all I have, my parents, my coaches, my teammates, and my school. My gift of running is just one way I glorify God.
2. Do you feel any extra pressure now and how do you handle the notoriety?
I believe accolades and notoriety aren’t what make my accomplishments worth it. Knowing how hard I have worked to achieve my goals and seeing those goals become reality is enough to make me not feel the pressure. Instead of feeling pressure from the press, I try to utilize it to share my faith with others. I run for God, not for my parents, coaches, or teammates. By having attention on me, I try to push the attention on Jesus instead. I try my best to just do what I know how to do best and that is simply running.
3. How do your teammates help you prepare and support you?
My teammates were very supportive of me this year. I grew very close to them and relied on them when some of my races were not their best. Cross Country is a sport where your teammates truly become family. Together, we work, we struggle, and we succeed. My teammates keep running fun and interesting, I love and appreciate them very much. At big meets I want to represent them and my school well.
4. How has Coach O’Neil inspired you?
Coach O’Neil has always been so understanding and supportive of me. He has taught me a lot about the sport and continues to help me progress to the runner I want to be when I grow up. He simply wants what is best for me. What inspires me most about him is his sense of calmness. No matter the situation, Coach O’Neil is always calm, cool, and collected. That takes a lot of patience and love.
5. What are your goals for your Junior XC season?
For Junior XC, I would like to win another State title and qualify for a National meet. My goal is to race well at that national meet and maybe even try for the win. However, after this season I realized that if I am getting better, my season will be successful.
6. Tell us about your upcoming outdoor track season.
Outdoor track is going to be important this year. Track is the last season I will have until college coaches can begin talking to me. My only goal as of now is to PR (Personal Record) in each of the three distance events (800, Mile, Two Mile). Winning another State Championship would be nice, but I am not worried about that right now. For postseason, I hope to race in some pretty big national races. I want to do well in those but that’s it as of now.
7. What colleges are starting to pursue you?
Colleges aren’t allowed to recruit me yet because of NCAA rules. June 15th, 2023 is the big day for that. I have fortunately met some coaches although I prefer not to share which universities they were from.
8. Besides running, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love aviation and photography, so sometimes you can find me at the airport taking pictures of all the various aircraft. Traveling is something I really enjoy. I’m a big nature guy so anything outdoors is fun to me. I love sports, playing or watching them is what I do in my free time sometimes as well.
9. Anything else we should know about you? Hobbies, favorite color, favorite band/music, favorite TV show?
I love learning languages; besides Spanish I am learning Italian as well. I don’t listen to music when I run or during warmups. I prefer to clear my head and just listen to the sounds of the meet. My running superstition is to get a prerace haircut before important races. This tradition started back in 2017 at the Junior Olympics in Houston, Texas. My prerace meal is 6 peanut butter crackers and a banana.
10. What else do we need to know about Keegan Smith?
A lot of people always ask me, “How can you run so fast?” and my response is always the same, “Ask God not me!”
Story and photos: Pam Rhoades, Director of Marketing & Communications