Iowa City High senior Ford Washburn has cemented himself as one of the top distance runners in the area.
He has made the state tournament every year, each time improving upon his state meet placement, from 20th place as a freshman to catapulting to fourth place in his junior year.
Hoping to keep his trend of upward mobility, Washburn said that anything less than a state championship this year would be a disappointment.
“Each year I have been getting closer and closer to a state title,” Washburn said. “If I finish off in second place, I am not going to forgive myself for it. This is something that I have wanted to win for the past three years.”
However, Washburn is not alone in his quest for a state title.
Washburn is one of six Little Hawks varsity runners who came back to the team for their senior year. The others: Noah Carey, Braeden Marker, Ammon Smith, Truman Thompson and Owen Vanderlinden.
In a taxing sport like cross country, creating bonds with teammates can lead to individual improvement, which is what has pushed Washburn and the team to be so successful.
“His camaraderie with his teammates has been a big help,” Little Hawks assistant head coach Ross Salinas said. “The talent is there, but I think his friends help to keep him motivated and focused. Iowa has winter, so it can be hard to run to your potential when you have to go out there and do it on your own, especially when it feels like minus-30 degrees.”
Washburn agreed with that sentiment and said that his close bonds have helped him to better enjoy the sport.
“I like running every day with this group of guys,” Washburn said. “I would probably hate this sport if I was out there running by myself every day. It would be hard not being able to talk to anybody and just have to grind every day.”
Jayme Skay, the Little Hawks’ longtime head coach, said it has been a pleasure charting the progress of his six seniors.
“Watching them grow up has been amazing,” Skay said. “Back in junior high, they were quite squirrelly. But they have matured so much, Ford in particular. As all freshmen do, he struggled with time and getting here. But we just stuck with him and encouraged him.”
The encouragement from his coaches has seemingly paid off, which has helped Washburn to become a leader in his own right.
“We run the Legendary Seven Sisters during the summer, and after every race, Ford would finish it early and not only run it twice but go back down the hill and start encouraging everyone back in,” Skay said. “He does that in our team races, too. He is not the type to be loud and scream at his teammates or do any singing and hand-holding, it is purely leading by example. He is a positive and an extremely good teammate to have.”
Still, Washburn admits he still has times when he gets over-eager.
“My coaches stop me from killing myself every day during workouts,” Washburn said. “If it were up to me, I would just keep on going until I passed out. An example was just this past Tuesday when I really wanted to do more, and I probably pushed the pace harder than I should have for a workout. We did about 5k of workout, which I would have done more, but I do not think that they would have let me.”
Washburn’s teammates and coaches recognize his talent.
“With or without us coaches or his teammates, Ford would have been a successful runner,” Salinas said. “He has more talent than any athlete than I have ever come across. His capacity is equal to college runners who are out there breaking records. It is important to recognize that a lot of what Ford has accomplished is within himself.”
Speaking of college, Washburn has yet to formally commit to a team but knows that wherever he decides to go, he will be pushed to be the best that he has ever been.
“Here, I am basically doing all of my workouts by myself,” Washburn said. “I use my watch to make sure that I am hitting my splits, which is still really tough. I think that once I am a part of a big college atmosphere with a lot of good guys who are all faster than me, that will help drive me and want to improve more.”
Raven Moore covers high school sports for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. You can reach her at RSMoore@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Raven_XReport.