From the time he started training over the summer, Caleb Cummings was determined to make this cross country season his best.
Combining that drive with resiliency and the Medina senior had an unforgettable fall.
Cummings overcame a possible season-ending leg injury with grit and determination that helped him check off just about every goal he had to earn Gazette MVP.
“At the beginning of the summer, I felt like I had to give it all that I had, because it’s my last year,” Cummings said. “I think that led to my injury, because I increased my mileage too quick, but it helped me throughout my cross-training and then the season to give it all that I had.
“This was the last chance I had to PR and get All-Ohio.”
While Cummings spent the first 1½ months of the season on an elliptical machine rather than running with teammates, the 17-year-old wasn’t going to let a stress fracture hold him down.
He cross-trained at the Medina Community Recreation Center, gradually building strength before working back into the lineup.
“We weren’t even sure we were going to have him on the roster,” Medina coach Milt Place said. “While we were practicing there, he really was working (at the rec center) for 90 minutes at a time. One guy told me they saw him and that his shirt was drenched with sweat.
“I think he had a maturity this year that he hadn’t had before. Being a senior, with this being his last hurrah, helped. We knew it was difficult for him.”
It didn’t take long for Cummings to fill the No. 1 position. In the final race on his home course, the 5-foot-11, 135-pounder ran a personal-record 16:08.3 to finish second at the Medina Division I District.
Cummings followed in a modest 36th place at the Boardman Regional, which added to his strong-mindedness.
“I wasn’t happy with 36th at regionals, but I just thought that was where I was at,” said Cummings, who had competed in only six meets at that point. “I was thinking (going into state) about finishing top 40. I would’ve been good with that.”
Days later, the state meet was postponed due to flooding at National Trail Raceway. That allowed Cummings one more week of training for the final chance to prove he belonged.
Cummings made the most of that opportunity, working from the trailing pack to an All-Ohio finish in 16th (16:34.3).
“I just really surprised myself,” he said. “I was running with guys that I knew were typically a lot faster than me, and I was cautious. I passed some people, but I didn’t know if I should be doing that. I thought I would just die off.
“I’m still not sure what happened. For some reason during the postseason, I just told myself that this is it and I just gave it all I had.”
While the finish was storybook, it wasn’t surprising to his coach. Place saw what Cummings could do during track season, when the then-junior earned a regional berth in the 1,600-meter run before posting a career-low 4:21.33 that was just short of a state berth at the Amherst Regional.
“He has a lot of talent, but the racing is probably his gift,” Place said. “In the past, I don’t think he saw the 11th month of training. The maturity wasn’t there, but he really saw the big plan months ahead of time.
“He’s a great racer, and he can really take it to the next level if he has a great winter.”
Cummings credits his competitiveness to intense games with sister Alex and younger brothers Keenan and Nate. While the home battles aren’t as fierce as they used to be, he embraces situations that most would shy away from.
“A lot of my friends don’t like the pressure, but for me when it’s higher pressure, I just run a lot faster. I like that,” he said. “When something needs to be done, I’m good at doing it quickly and efficiently. When I’m crunched for time, I’m good in those situations.”
Cummings’ efforts have drawn the eyes of college coaches. While he feels he still has time to make that decision, he’s ready for the next challenge when indoor track begins this winter.
With lessons learned this fall — both good and bad — he’ll be ready.
“I’m going to take another week off and then probably go every other day to increase my mileage slower,” Cummings said. “Then I’ll start hammering more, but I won’t do it as early as I did this summer.
“If anything, this has raised my expectations of what I can do.”
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