Nine-Year Old Wins XTERRA Harbins Park
While nine-year old Sam Comsudes stunned the crowd at the XTERRA Harbins Park Trail Run on September 23rd, no one was more surprised than his dad.
“At 2.3 miles he was in third, and at the finish, he popped out of the woods with no one around. I thought, what’s happening here?” said Sam’s father, Tom Comsudes.
Sam finished the 5.3 mile race in 36:27, which is about 6:53 pace. 60-year old Phil Richey finished second in 37:14. Right after the run, Sam approached Richey with a cup of water and said, “Good race.”
On the podium, when Sam received his medal and prizes, he could barely hold on to everything. He’s so small that he wear’s a women’s size five running shoe. And yet, he’s already making a name for himself on the national scene. He won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Cross-Country Championship for his age group at ages six, seven, and eight. Last year, he was 9th at the eight and under USA Track and Field (USATF) National Championship. He’s never lost a race on a Georgia cross-country course, and he’s already attracting the attention of local high school and college cross-country and track coaches.
“He really enjoys it,” says Tom. “At practice tonight, he’s going to the park and will enjoy running. He just has a natural motor. If he wasn’t running, I think he’d drive my wife and I crazy.”
And yet, Sam also possesses a knowledge of strategy and race psychology that most runners don’t have until they are much older.
“He naturally knows how to run against other runners of equal quality,” says Tom.”He’s like a little strategist. I first saw this when he was eight and I was surprised. He was running against a boy from Miami and they got to a 100 yard hill in the woods. Sam went into the woods 10 yards behind and he came out 20 yards ahead. He just knew when to surge and how to do that. I didn’t tell him.”
Tom, 55, and his wife Maria are volunteer coaches for the running club Sam and his sister Gabi, age 13, belong to. (Gabi is also an exceptional runner and was the third female at XTERRA Harbins Park.) He helps his children write out their goals for the season and assists them with race strategies.
In high school, Tom Comsudes was an excellent soccer player until the cross-country coach convinced him to run. In his first year on the team, Tom was the number two runner, the first being Georgia state champion Carl Nordhielm, who went on to run for the University of Pennsylvania.
“I became the number two man on the team, but one of the things I’ve always felt inside was that I could have trained harder,” said Tom. “I felt comfortable being number two, but I could have worked harder. I could have competed. It’s a bit of a life regret. That’s why I tell my son to always go for the runner ahead of him.”
Tom is also very much aware that while Sam has a gift, he must be vigilant if he is going to protect his son from doing too much too soon and burning out before he reaches his peak.
“Burnout is a big fear,” says Tom. “It’s honestly tough when you’re in the moment and you see them enjoying the accomplishment and you’re proud. But you also know they have a lot of years left in them.”
Tom and his wife encourage Sam’s interest in basketball, swimming, and martial arts to prevent him from getting tired of running or injured.
“I see it all the time in baseball,” says Tom. “A lot of kids start at my son’s age and by high school they aren’t playing for the love of the game anymore. Their playing becomes a requirement rather than a passion, and I’m fearful of that.”
Sam, however, is hard to keep down.
“Sam is already talking about doing the 8.75 race at XTERRA Fort Yargo and honestly, I’m not sure what to do. If he wants to do the eight mile race, do we let him? Or do we make him do the three mile race and have him disappointed. It’s tough.”
Sam, however, seems to have his priorities straight. One of the prizes Sam won at XTERRA Harbins Park was a $100 gift certificate for Altra running shoes, which was fortuitous, because September 23rd was also his mom’s birthday.
“I’m going to give this to Mom,” Sam said. “She needs new trail shoes.”
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