There is no finish line.
At least not with Gabriel Schmid.
Just 19 months ago, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020-2021 North Carolina High School Cross Country State championships to be held on a frigid January day in Kannapolis. If you scroll down the 97 names who qualified in the 3A Championships that day, Schmid’s is conspicuously missing. He was a freshman then.
Now, he’s a state champion.
On November 5, Schmid won the 3A State Championship at the Ivey Redmon Sports Complex in Kernersville. He captured his first state championship with a time of 15:44.28, a full 16 seconds ahead of runner-up Stephen Fernetti of North Lincoln. Eli Julian of South Rowan finished third at 16:13.79.
Schmid became only the second runner ever from Orange to win a state championship in cross country. Bradsher Wilkins won the 4A State Championship in 1997 and 1998.
Just as Schmid flipped the script on his performance, so did the climate that he competed in. Last November, he ran his first state championship meet with temperatures in the mid-50s. He finished 12th. This year, captured the state title in downright balmy conditions with highs in the low 80s, as warm as many observers could ever recall for the final cross country event of the year.
After crossing the finish line, some runners searched fervently for the table that had dozens of cups of water just beyond the concourse. Schmid, however, actually preferred the warmer weather.
“Last year, it was hard to stay warm,” Schmid said. “This was an amazing time. I’d rather have this 100%.”
Schmid followed in the footsteps of a teammate and mentor who nearly captured his own state championship several times. Spencer Hampton, who graduated in June, finished 2nd in the 3,2000 meters in the 2021 3A Outdoor State Track and Field Championship. A week prior, Hampton won the 1,600 meters Mideast Regional championship at Southern Lee High School in Sanford. Last year, Hampton came in 8th in the state cross country championships.
“We were feeling good about the race,” said Orange Men’s Cross Country coach Brian Schneidewind. “It was a nice, relatively calm week of having faith and trust in all the decisions he’s been making throughout the last several years to get to this point. What makes him special is the fact that he’s strong in so many different areas whereas a lot of runners have a lot of obvious strengths, but a lot of weaknesses as well.”
In May, Hampton won another regional championship in the 3,200 meters at Franklinton High School. Schmid finished 2nd. Schmid also finished 3rd in the 1,600 meters, while Hampton came in 2nd.
A week later at the 3A State Championships at North Carolina A&T State University, Schmid came in 2nd in the 3,200 met4ers.
“Spencer definitely helped me win this championship,” Schmid said. “He pushed me hard my freshman year because he saw potential in me. It’s something he engraved in me early on. It’s definitely something that started it all. From there, my parents, my coaches, my teammates saw that I have something. It motivated me to do that. At the end of the day, the motivation can get you through the days, the years, the months. Waking up every single day and having to do a 8-10 mile run. You can’t just have motivation. You have to have people pushing you.”
After the outdoor state championships, Schmid underwent a rigorous summer training regimen to prepare for cross country. He attended the Brevard Summer Distance training camp where he ran through the craggy terrain in a mountainous region. He also ventured to West Virginia for a Ragnar relay race, described as the “hardest fun you’ll ever love” on its website.
“The Pisgah Forest is definitely the way to train,” Schmid said. “It improved my endurance. One day we ran three miles uphill at an elevation of about 1,500 feet. Brevard started it all for this season. That was the hardest training I’ve ever gone through. I may do it again next year.”
Schmid finished the 2022 cross country season with six wins. In addition to the Central Carolina Conference championship at Lake Cammack Course in Burlington, Schmid won the Mideast Regional championship at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. That’s also where he opened the season with a victory in the Early Bird Challenge on August 20, outdistancing the field by 40 seconds against the nearest competitor, Cedar Ridge’s Roman Morrell.
In the state championships, Schmid beat out 170 other runners.
Since then, he hasn’t stopped competing. He has already qualified for the state championships in indoor track and field. On November 19, Schmid finished 14th in the New Balance Dash for Doobie 3200 in Pfafftown. His time of 9:20.33 was well under the state qualification standards of 10:00.000.
Last week, Schmid returned to WakeMed Soccer Park and finished fifth in the NXR Southeast Regional Championships. His time of 15:13.30 was good enough to qualify for the Nike Cross Country Nationals in Portland, OR on December 3rd.