AUSTIN--One’s been here forever, the other for not quite two years, and now both are leaving Llano High School with a convincing, role-model exit message. For their farewell assignment, they delivered outstanding performances on the grandest stage: the State Championships. Erik Forrister, on the morning of May 14, finished fourth among the best eight in Texas, in the Class-3A 3200-meter race. The following afternoon, Cara Mack, the transplanted Kansan, matched Erik’s result in the 1600.
“When will they stop amazing me?” asked girls’ head track coach and distance coach, Shaun Carter. “They both did everything they could in their careers to get better.”
The Boys’ 3200
Erik Forrister, who spent his junior year chasing freshman phenom, and teammate, Marcos Vallejo, came of age as a champion when he won in Llano, March 25. Victories followed in Brady and at district—his first district title. He was second in the Region I Meet—a sturdy accomplishment itself—and that earned him an eight-lap journey at Mike Myers Stadium on the UT campus.
“I stuck with the leaders for six and a half laps,” Forrister explained. “I wanted to have some fun and try to win it,” and what an attempt it was: nine minutes, 37.69 seconds was his time, his personal record in the most important—and last—race of his high school days.
Erik actually led with 650 meters to go, but, “Too soon, too soon! I was yelling,” Carter declared, in voicing his only (mild) complaint of the highly successful weekend. “Making your move at that point has worked in the past this season for Erik, but guys at state will hold on.”
“You’ve got to try it out and see,” Forrister countered. “You never know for sure. I’m definitely not disappointed.” No one whose favorite colors are Black and Orange are, either, and he only lost a bronze medal because of Adrian Nevarez’s excellent run with 200 meters to go.
Carter, beaming at how his student had delivered, also found time to defend the bold move: “Some kids will come out nervous in a race like this, but Erik gave it his all.” Oh, was that evident, as a couple of reporters followed the medics who were monitoring the youngster, who was, shall we say, physically overwhelmed by the punishment a two-miler will administer to a runner—if that runner puts on the kind of burst Erik did.
“That’s not something every athlete can do,” the coach advised. “Ordinary ones can’t push themselves when they have zero left; you may see it in college or in the pros, but for Erik to do it at this level shows what a great athlete he is.”
What does the boy think made the difference, rising from never winning at district, from never going to state until his final chance, and capturing a most enviable fourth place? “This was my last year, and I wanted to make it my best. You’ve got to drive your body to the limits, train hard, and believe in yourself.”
In late summer, 2008, then Llano head track coach, Dan Hughes, told me the cross country team would be joined by the Mack sisters, Cara and Ciera, from Kansas. “Do you know who is older,” I asked, “and can you spell their names?” “No,” he responded.
We know them pretty well now, and the senior, Cara, wrapped up a superb stay at her “new” school with fourth in state in the metric mile.
“I thought we both competed at the top of our game,” Mack said, including Erik in her praise. “He set the standard for me the day before,” and then she added two strides of humor, “I wish he had come in first or second.”
“I set goals at the first of each week,” Carter noted, “and they are optimistic goals. I’m thinking they are the absolute best—and then kids like Cara surpass them.” Eliminate them. Obliterate them. Five minutes, 15.41 seconds—not only her best-ever, but a mere 15 seconds better than at regionals when she was a most impressive silver medalist. Coach C: “Unheard of! Incredible!”
Reporter’s note: Cara beat Hanna Galloway of Decatur by eight and a half seconds—it was Galloway who won gold in the region meet in Lubbock. The stretch run for the bronze medal was a dandy, with Stephanie Hernandez of Huffman-Hargrave edging Mack by under two seconds.
“The strategy was to stay with the top four,” Carter contended, “and when you give someone like Cara advice, she takes it and does her best with it.”
“This was all about position,” she told me. “You don’t worry about your individual 400-meter times, because this is a fast-paced run. You put yourself in a spot to be near the leaders at the end, when there can be a kick.”
This dedicated Lady Jacket, who, like Erik, will run for some unnamed college in the fall, held off half the gifted field, the best 3A participants the huge state can offer.
“I didn’t see this coming when I got here from Kansas,” Mack acknowledged. “I had been at state there as a sophomore, but it wasn’t like this.”
“I didn’t know much about the Macks when they arrived,” Carter disclosed, “but they have a great work ethic, great attitude, and they’re willing to listen to their coaches. That’s all a coach can ask for. Hard to find kids like Cara and Erik.”
The girl’s secret to her success: “You’ve got to be willing to push yourself to the limits, push past the thoughts that you’re dying out there. Everyone is a champion in this race. Be the best you can be and rise above the idea you may want to quit. It’s all in the heart.”