Grainger County High School Senior Zach Long is on fire these days.
He's off to New York to compete in the National High School Championship for 800 meters at the New Balance Indoor Track Championship. Patty Tracy-Thewes from the Knoxville Track Club recently spoke with Zach and his high school coach, Bill Lynn.. Thank you, Patty for this interview. Here's what they had to say.
When did you first get the itch to lace up a pair of shoes and run?
I started running in 2005 to help me cope with a divorce. At that time I would usually run only 3 miles, 3-4 times a week — at that point in my life, running was truly a saving grace. Then in 2006, I agreed when a friend asked me to train with her for a half marathon. I had several people laugh at the thought of my wanting to run that far. I even had someone tell me that I didn't jog far enough to run a marathon. Those statements were like an issued challenge, and so then I had a point to make. After I ran it, then I just kept signing up for more.
This past Fall, Zach Long captured first place (16:12.83) at the TSSAA A/AA Cross Country State Meet, bringing home Grainger High's first ever State Championship win. He then went on to place 3rd at the Foot Locker South Regional Meet in a blistering time of 14:58.
Hard to top such a successful Fall season, but the UT bound Long is planning just that. He is aiming to bring home triple State Championship wins (800M, 1600M and 3200M) for the Grizzlies this upcoming Track season.
What's equally impressive is Long's performance in the classroom. He is certainly a young man who knows what he wants on and off the "Track". More importantly, he is willing to put in the hard work and dedication that is required to obtain such goals.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN TRACK/CROSS COUNTRY SINCE TAKING UP THE SPORT?
My two biggest accomplishments were winning the State Championship this year and qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals. I would have to say I am most proud of my 3rd place finish at Foot Locker South, because no one really thought I had a chance to place in the top ten and I was able to prove everyone wrong. I ran my race and dropped my Personal Record from 15:21 to 14:58.
WHAT MADE YOU START RUNNING IN THE FIRST PLACE AND WHEN?
My first experience with track was in seventh grade. I was doing conditioning running with my baseball team, and the track coach (Matt Day) noticed that I was able to run a lot longer than the other guys on the team. So I am very grateful for him noticing me during my baseball practice and introducing me to the sport.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST INFLUENCE/ROLE MODEL AND WHY?
My parents are my biggest influence. They have not missed a race throughout my high school career, and they always push me to be the best I can be on and off the track.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF RUNNING?
I love to play baseball. I have played since I was four and still have not gave it up.
YOU ARE A SENIOR, LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR SCHOOL YEARS, WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE TEACHER?
My favorite teacher would have to be my sixth grade science teacher Mrs. Candie. She was never in a bad mood and always kept a smile on my face. She also genuinely cared about all of her students and never let anyone feel left out.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF ACADEMICALLY?
I am most proud of being an officer in the Beta Club at my high school. It took a lot of hard work to get the high grades needed to be selected into the Beta Club, and now it is special to know it was all worth it.
WHAT HAVE BEEN OBSTACLES IN YOUR LIFE, ON AND OFF THE TRACK, AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
Not having a track at my high school has always been an obstacle since I have been running. I drive an hour to Knoxville twice a week to do my speed workouts, so I can have the opportunity to practice on a track with my trainer. The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome off the track would be my great grandfather dying before I started high school. He was really close to me and it was a really tough loss. My family is always really close, but I feel like that brought us all even closer.
ANY PRE-RACE RITUALS?
I always say a prayer before the race begins. It helps me to calm down and get ready to run my best.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOUR COACH HAS GIVEN YOU?
My coach Bobby Holcombe gives me great advice every time we talk about racing or training. The advice that really sticks out to me is when he told me to never back down to anyone.
IF YOU COULD GO FOR A RUN WITH ANYONE PAST OR PRESENT WHO WOULD IT BE?
I would love to go on a run with Steve Prefontaine. He is one of the greatest to ever race on a track and I would love to ask him questions about racing.
YOU SIGNED WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE PRE-TRACK SEASON. WITH THAT OUT OF THE WAY, YOU CAN JUST FOCUS JUST ON THE TRACK, WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE 2015 TRACK SEASON?
My goals are to complete the triple crown at state by winning the 800, 1600, and 3200 meter races. It will be very difficult because of all of the great runners in Tennessee, but I am up for the challenge.
WHY UT, AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO AS A VOLUNTEER?
The facilities at UT are second to none. Tennessee takes great care of their student athletes and the coaching staff is first class. I look forward to competing in the SEC and bringing the University of Tennessee back to the top in its rightful place.
YOU PLACED 2ND AT THE TSAA A-AA STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS LAST YEAR IN THE 1600M? ANY SPECIFIC GOALS/THOUGHTS ON THIS RACE THIS SEASON?
It will be another tough race just like it was last season, but my goal is to win and hopefully run under 4:10.
YOU DELIVERED THE FIRST CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP FOR GRANGER HIGH. WHAT HAS THIS MEANT TO YOU?
It has been a great honor to bring a state title to Grainger County. The community has been behind me every step of the way, and I cannot be more thankful for that. Cross Country may seem like an individual sport, but it is definitely a team sport. I could not have won anything without all of the support I have received from the Grainger community.
ADVICE TO GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF WHO HAS JUST STARTED RUNNING FOR THE FIRST TIME?
I would say to not expect anything to come easy. It gets tough when you have to practice in the freezing temperatures or in the pouring rain. But you will realize that all of those tough workouts are worth it when you are standing on top of the podium.
WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO STUDY AT UT, AND PLANS FOR FUTURE?
I plan to go into Pre-Medicine when I get to UT and then go to medical school when I graduate. My plan for the future is to be a successful orthopedic surgeon.
Coach's Take: Grainger High School Coach, Bill Lynn
WHAT MAKES ZACH A FIERCE COMPETITOR?
Zach is competitive by nature. He is a high-achiever; straight A student, and very disciplined in life. His goal is to be a doctor. I hope he will take my insurance! His athletic goals are simple: SEC and National Champion (individual and team). Go Big Orange!
THIS WILL BE ZACH'S LAST YEAR AS A RUNNING FOR GRAINGER HIGH. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE EXPERIENCE/MOMENT WITH ZACH BOTH ON THE "FIELD" AND OFF?
On the field....I would say at the State Championship seeing him finish an undefeated season....and at the Footlocker South Regional in Charlotte placing third and having a PR (14:58); 3rd fastest qualifying time in the nation. When I looked into his face I could see a look of satisfaction- pretty cool. Off the field....hmm. I think it is probably our many discussions about race day strategy and life in general. Athletics provide many valuable life lessons if you slow down.
NOTICED HE IS THE CAPTAIN OF YOUR TEAM. WHAT MAKES HIM SUCH A GREAT LEADER?
He has great communication and team-building skills. His team respects him as a person and runner. They also understand his discipline and sacrifice to the sport. As team captain, Zach knows how to motivate others through his words and deeds. He is truly a remarkable young man. I am very excited for him and the University of Tennessee.
EXPECTATIONS FOR ZACH WITH THE 2015 TRACK SEASON?
State Champion in the 800, 1600 and 3200m. Most people do not know that Zach and his family had the flu the week of the national championship in San Diego. He never made excuses about his performance...
SIDENOTE: WATCH FOR HIS LITTLE SISTER ALLY (6TH GRADER). RAN 24:58 IN 5K THIS YEAR!
KTC wishes Zach good luck this season and in all his future endeavors!
Submitted by Patty Tracy-Thewes