Bellingham, WA- If I were to tell you how well I think an athlete would perform during the track season at the beginning of last spring, I could have easily gone with my gut and only share with you who I knew from competing in high school.
Whether it was Bellingham great Cade Brown, Lynden's Tate Hutchins, or even Lynden Christian's Eric Steiger and Brooks DeWaard, those are athletes I was most familiar with because I knew them all as good friends and competitors. You bring up someone like Sehome's Lucas Cunningham, I would have no idea who he was since I never ran against him.
Unless you work with his coach, then you might hear a few things here and there about great of a runner this kid truly is.
It wasn't until the district meet where I would fully understand what his coach was saying about this junior phenom. That day in May, Cunningham had won the 2A Sub-District 1600 not by a small margin, but even beat out Bellingham's Cade Brown by 6 seconds.
The next day, Cunningham came back to run the 800 and would face the number one, at the time, 800 runner in the state of Washington for 2A, Tate Hutchins, who had already run 1:56 this season. Just like the day before, Cunningham would come out on top beating Lynden's top runner.
Now we move forward two weeks later to the State Track Meet at Mount Tahoma High School. It was decided by his coaches that the junior would just run the 800 since they thought he wasn't quite ready to double at the meet and this was his first year qualifying for state track. Cunningham had made it through the prelims of the 800 to finals where he would meet, yep you guessed it, Lynden's Hutchins once again.
Not surprising that the number one 800 runner would take the first lap out super fast, Hutchins came through the 400 at approximately 56 seconds, followed by Cunningham at 58. It wasn't long before Hutchins would begin to slow down on the back stretch, and Cunningham could see an opportunity to take advantage.
With 150 meters to go, Cunningham had taken over Hutchins' momentum and would pass him, not into first place, but the eventual second place spot. Toppenish's Anthony Sanchez may have won the race that day, but Cunningham was a winner not only for his school, but for Whatcom County too as he went on to PR running 1:55 and become Sehome's highest placer in the 800 since Reed Henderson won it in 2013.
But here we are, 4 months later, talking about this race once again at Lake Padden after a great workout he just got done with, still in shock that he had a great track season despite the lack of winter training due to some injuries.
"I went into the season with not a ton of training," said Cunningham. "I decided to buckle down for track and try to stay consistent through the hard work and eventually saw it pay off."
It has been a long journey though for him as he began his running career at the age of 12 in middle school as he came out for cross country. Before he turned to running, soccer was his main sport.
"Didn't start track in middle school because of soccer, but kept running cross country in the spring because soccer was in the fall."
The summer before his freshman year at Sehome, Cunningham tore his meniscus and had to have knee surgery, which took him away from any physical activity for 4 months. He would quit playing soccer to prevent any future injuries. That same year he would instead turn out for track.
Now he were are, going into his senior season of cross, Cunningham says this was by far his best summer of training and really confident in himself to have a successful final season. It also helps to when your training partner comes back for cross country after missing track last spring to go play soccer.
"It has been great to train together again. I think we work well off each other and that makes us even better runners. I don't know how we will do placing wise this year in Pasco, but I think we put ourselves in great position to succeed."
There is the possibility of them going 1-2 at the state meet this season and both are fully capable of accomplishing a goal like that. But nothing would make Cunningham any happier than to go out as a senior and help his team bring home a 10th team title for the program.
"I'm just really looking forward to helping my team become state champs again. If we get that than I will be happy."
You can catch Lucas Cunningham and the Sehome Mariners at their first cross country meet of the season at Civic Stadium on Saturday, September 9th at the Sehome Cross Country Invite starting at 9 a.m. with the freshman race.