GERALDINE — Geraldine junior Collin Mayfield set one goal for himself at the AHSAA cross country championships last Saturday: win.
Anything other than a first-place finish would’ve been a disappointment, he said.
As the lone Geraldine boy competing at the state meet, Mayfield didn’t disappoint himself. He started fast, kept a healthy pace, and used his unwavering winning attitude to cross the finish line in 16:16.50 to win the Class 3A boys individual state championship in Oakville.
“I felt really thankful and blessed that I’m still healthy,” Mayfield said. “I don’t take anything for granted, I work really hard, and I knew that I needed to win and anything less was going to be a disappointment.
“When I crossed the finish line, I was just extremely happy. I had a smile on my face.”
Mayfield finished 30 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, J.B. Pennington’s Paul Gonzalez.
“I took the lead from the gun and I wanted to get way out there,” Mayfield said. “When I came through the first mile, I didn’t look behind me, but I heard someone say that I had about a 50-meter gap. Then the gap just opened up. I was pushing as hard as I could, trying not to let anybody catch up.”
Mayfield ran against a loaded field in a win at the sectional meet earlier this season. And again when he placed first in 1A-4A and was sixth overall in 1A-7A competition at the Last Chance Invitational in Scottsboro.
He placed eighth in last year’s state meet and told coach Robin Bynum that he was determined to not let it happen again, that he’d come back and win.
“He had a sigh of relief on his face when he crossed that finish line,” Bynum said. “All he wanted to do was find his parents and get the biggest hug he could. He finally finished and accomplished what he set out to do.”
With sky-high hopes, Mayfield felt like he was in a great position to win this year.
“With running, some people are winning state as freshmen and sophomores, so it’s not exactly crazy,” he said. “But to be able to do it as a junior and knowing that I can hopefully do it again next year, that’s a great feeling.”
Geraldine started the first cross country program in school history last year. As a novice in the sport, Bynum enlisted help from a cross country veteran, Pisgah coach Gus Hembree, who was instrumental in spreading the sport to schools in Jackson County.
“Coach Hembree has helped us a lot. He’s been Collin’s No. 1 motivator, I believe,” Bynum said. “Coach Hembree has been at this for a long time and he’s helped Collin and I both try and understand the sport. I give coach Hembree so much thanks for that.”
Said Hembree: “I like to consider myself the Johnny Appleseed of the cross country program. I like to see cross country grow. I think it’s a great sport for our area. Now every school in Jackson County has a cross country program.”
Hembree got to know Mayfield last year during Geraldine’s inaugural season. He gave Mayfield encouragement, some running workouts and some race day strategy.
“Collin’s just a phenomenal runner and he’d be successful whether I was in the picture or not,” Hembree said.
While attending the state meet with his Pisgah runners, Hembree was happy to see Mayfield cross the finish line as a state champion.
“I don’t know if I could be any happier if he was my own kid,” Hembree said.
The coach with the big sense of humor still couldn’t help but give Mayfield a playful jab for not finishing the state meet in under 16 minutes.
“You can’t let him rest on his laurels,” Hembree joked.
Bynum said Mayfield’s development in cross country exceeded her own expectations. Armed with all the self-motivation any coach could ask for, Mayfield doesn’t have to be told to go run. He runs in the morning. He runs in the afternoon. He just runs.
With self-motivation being the No. 1 key to success in cross country, Bynum said she’s proud Mayfield is so dedicated to improving. Mayfield’s drive to be great has Bynum excited about the possibilities of his senior year, a year with prospects for Mayfield’s and Geraldine’s first back-to-back state cross country championship.
“Collin can run all day, every day. He can run up to 12 miles and never be out of breath,” Bynum said.