Student-athletes in college have enough on their plate without the additional freshman anxieties that comes with adjusting to life away from home.
For former South View and current Louisburg College cross country runner Michael Staples, there was even more to handle.
At first glance, Michael seemed like just another freshman student-athlete, struggling to adjust to college's heightened competition.
"At the beginning of the season, I was running a 29 in the 8K, which is OK," Michael said. "I didn't think it would be hard at first."
Michael was a star cross country runner at South View High School just months earlier, but a sudden change in his performance had nothing to do with mechanics of speed. Rather, it had to do with who he thought about when he ran.
"My dad always told me to compete hard and never give up, so that's why I dedicated my season to him."
Just one month before Staples started school at Louisburg, his father was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer.
"We got the phone call, and my brother and I just hugged and cried," said Michael's sister, Melissa Parrish. "My dad's a rock in our family, and it was emotional."
"It kind of just took a toll on me," Michael said.
"I think everybody, even my dad, was worried about my brother because it's his freshman year in college and he's doing so well in running that we just didn't...my dad didn't want this to affect him," Melissa said.
Through pain, though, often comes strength, and at that point Michael's attitude towards winning became a fight for his dad.
"He would always still tell me, 'I don't want you to quit. No matter what happens, you're not going to quit.'" Michael said. "And that's just how he told me, and that's how I want to do. I want to finish for him."
With his dad on his mind, Michaels's perseverance paid off at just the right time. With a spot at Nationals on the line, the freshman turned out a personal best in the 8K with a time of 24 minutes and 36 seconds at Regionals.
"When I finished the race, I said 'I did this for you, Dad,'" Michael said.
"When we found out that he got the time of 24, my dad and I couldn't be there," Melissa said. "He was in the hospital, so I was with him. But they called us and we were in the hospital screaming, we were so happy!"
On Nov. 6, just eight days before Nationals, Michael's father passed away. And as the family and the community continue to grieve, Michael wants to honor the most important man in his life by doing what he does best.
"Running's not just running. For me, it's my thrive. To me, it's like me talking to my dad," Michael said. "I know he's always going to be there even in Heaven or my heart."
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