He was born to run


POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bryce Jenkins was a blur of fuzzy hair and gangly arms and legs.

The diminutive sophomore ran and ran, leading a community of Leilehua Mules in a storybook journey to a state cross country championship in 2007.

While living on Wheeler Army Airfield with his mother and sister, he didn't quite know what to make of sudden success. He was just a typical sophomore with more fire than wisdom, more ferocity than finesse.

Now a senior, he's grown taller, gotten stronger and smarter. He endured two stress fractures as a junior and came back better than ever.

This weekend at Keaau, Jenkins chases the only remaining individual prize that has eluded him in his star-studded career: the 3,000-meter gold medal at the state championships.

He is ready. A time of 8 minutes, 52 seconds in the Honolulu Marathon-sponsored event at Kaiser last month had plenty of longtime watchers buzzing.

“;(Former Punahou standout) Todd Iacovelli said that might have been the best time ever in Hawaii,”; Mules coach Shawn Nakata said. “;For Bryce to run by himself uncontested and do that is incredible.”;

Bryce drives sister Summer, a sophomore, to school sometimes. Maybe it's maturity or impending graduation, but Bryce doesn't shy away from his sister these days. They share the same circle of friends at school, where his athletic success is not a big deal if he can help it.

“;He never tells anyone about it unless they ask him,”; said Summer, who plays water polo. “;It's like he was born for it. He was super good since he started.”;

ONE MINUTE, THEY were chatting. The next, Susan was frantic. Two years ago, Bryce was driving home from a friend's house, talking with Mom on the phone. He passed out at the wheel, his car veering into a ditch. The engine caught fire.

“;I woke up to the airbag hitting my face,”; he said.

Bryce got out of the car with nothing more than sore ribs. His parents, Susan and Bruce, arrived at the hospital with a litany of questions.

“;My mom said, 'You'd better tell me right now if you're on a drug or something because they'll find out anyway,' “; Bryce said.

The only answer was that he was dehydrated.

“;Then she was just happy I was OK,”; he said.

Bryce drinks a lot of water now.

BRUCE IS A TASKMASTER. Bryce likes to play. That made training a challenge when Bryce was a first-time champion. Now? It's Bryce who leads the charge most days.

Bruce steps back and pushes his son a little less often these days.

“;He's transformed from being a follower to being a leader,”; Bruce said.

Teammates Margarito Martinez and Shannon Cosey are part of the running crew, the guys who also paid for success with their year-round sweat. Jenkins, Martinez and Cosey took the top three spots in the 3,000-meter run at the Oahu Interscholastic Association championships.

The pain doesn't end there. Coach Shawn Nakata drives the Mules hard when necessary.

“;The most hated? There's just so many. We do mile repeats at (Wahiawa) elementary school. We start on the fence line and do five or six of 'em hard, sometimes seven,”; he said.

Nakata requires a time of 5:40 per mile on that drill, just one of many that he oversees. A lot of the work is done early in the season, but he put the Mules to work on Monday with a series of 20 200-yard runs. Each segment—four sets of five—had to be finished within 30 seconds. Rest time diminished along the way from 45 seconds to 30 to 15.

“;That was pretty brutal. I started getting that prickly feeling all over my body,”; said Jenkins, who has studied the physiology and science of running. “;The blood is rushing back to your skin.”;

IT'S MOTHER'S DAY and Susan Jenkins wears an Idaho State hoodie, painting the living room ceiling at their home. She'll do the job herself, if necessary. She did the handyman jobs well while Bruce was deployed to the Middle East.

“;I had to prioritize what's worth fighting for and not,”; she said. “;When Bryce and Summer were younger, I'd solve their problems, but now they say, 'I can figure it out.' “;

Susan has been at every one of Bryce's races since freshman year. The streak ends this week. Bryce is excited about his college destination (Idaho State), but it won't be the same.

“;It's going to be kind of scary,”; Bryce said. “;I'm going to have so much responsibility.”;

The weight is heavy, but Bryce's favorite reminder—a passage from the Bible, Acts 17:11—eases the burden.

“;I have done my best in the race. I have run the full distance.

“;I have kept the faith.”;