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07/30/2022 01:26 PM

Lara Carves Out a Path on the Trails and the Track

By Dan Fappiano

Source Sports Writer

Alex Lara’s freshman season with the Haddam-Killingworth track and field program was cut short due to an unfortunate injury. After building up strength through his sophomore year, Alex returned to full health and became a force on the track as a junior. This spring, Alex won the 800 at the Shoreline Conference Championship while helping the Cougars defend their league title.

Alex played baseball and soccer growing up, but felt that his opportunities to play those sports were drying out as he reached his 7th-grade year. Alex was still looking for a way to stay active and decided that running would be his best fit. In 7th grade, Alex joined the H-K Middle School cross country program.

At first, Alex had to get used to running since it was much different than any other sport in which he had previously participated. However, sometimes change can be a good thing, and Alex soon realized that the physical hardships that come with running are often accompanied by a sense of accomplishment and team pride. This realization made Alex decide that he wanted to stick it out and go as far as he could as a runner.

“I didn’t immediately love running all that much off of the bat, but I could immediately tell it was different from all the other sports I had competed in,” says Alex. “It was simplistic, but challenging. It had a level of team camaraderie that I really hadn’t experienced before. Pretty soon, my connection to the team and passion for the sport was greater than anything I had in other sports.”

Alex’s two years of running cross country in middle school helped prepare him for when he made the jump to the high school level. He began to understand the mindset that is required to be a successful runner. However, during his freshman season on the Cougars’ cross country team, Alex faced an unexpected setback.

In the home stretch of a race, Alex started to feel a shooting pain down his right leg and fell to the ground. He had suffered a broken leg. Alex missed the last few months of the cross country season and the entire indoor track season. He was ready to return for his freshman season of outdoor track, but the 2020 spring campaign was canceled. Alex wasn’t able to run competitively again until his sophomore season of cross country.

Alex’s time away from the track made him more eager to return. In order to do, Alex knew that he needed to be mentally prepared just as much as physically. Once he got back out there, Alex’s sophomore cross country season helped him return to form and regain his confidence as a runner.

“All I was thinking about was getting back into running. Being mentally prepared for a race is half the struggle. It was a challenge,” Alex says. “There was a fear that I would break my leg again. My entire sophomore year cross country season, I was still recovering physically and mentally. By the end of the season, I felt like I had recovered.”

After making his return, Alex found his footing as a mid-distance runner during his sophomore season of outdoor track, competing in the 400 and the 800, along with the 4x400 and 4x800 relays. At the Shoreline Conference Championship, Alex ran on H-K’s triumphant 4x800 relay that contributed to the Cougars’ first-place finish in the meet.

As someone who started his running career with cross country, Alex had to change his mindset in order to compete in the mid-distance events. Once he did that, Alex felt more comfortable running at the mid-distance level.

“It was a big shift in mindset from cross country, where you’re running a 3.1-mile race, to running a quarter mile-or basically a sprint,” says Alex. “I didn’t initially think I was cut out for that. It’s much more of a speed-based race than a 5K. But I got into a rhythm. In the 800, endurance still matters, but speed is very important. The shift in mindset was a bit abrupt at first, but I was able to feel more comfortable in those races.”

Alex returned to the cross country team for his junior season and helped H-K win both the Shoreline Conference championship and a Class SS state title. Alex ran a time of 18:26 to come in eighth place at the league meet, earning All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors.

Then during the recent spring season, Alex and the H-K boys’ outdoor track team captured their second-straight Shoreline Conference championship. Alex played a big role in the victory by taking first place in the 800 with a personal-best time of 2:00.69. As the race was winding down, Alex saw his competitors and knew that he had to finish strong. When he crossed the finish line as a conference champion, Alex knew that all of his hard work had paid off.

“I was excited to get into the outdoor season. Right off the bat, my times were improving well. Winning the 800 at the Shoreline Championship was a really rewarding feeling after working hard in that event,” Alex says. “I have to give credit to the second- and third-place runners in that race. We really pushed each other. They enabled me to come out first. It was rewarding to see that come to fruition.”

Alongside his own accomplishments, Alex also had an opportunity to run alongside his brother Matt, who was a freshman, this year. Alex and Matt competed together on the Cougars’ 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams. Alex says that running with his brother made his junior year a special one. He’s eager to see how Matt grows as his brother continues through the program.

“It has been great to see him improve and be able to help him any way I could,” says Alex. “As a freshman, he is already faster than me when I was his age. I’m really excited to see how he’ll mature as a runner, too.”

H-K track coach Matt Diglio says that Alex truly came into his own as a junior. As Alex started to build confidence, Diglio saw him become an integral figure in the Cougars’ postseason success as one of their best mid-distance runners.

“Alex is a runner who really came into his own and had a breakout season during the sophomore spring track season. It was during this season that he not only made drastic strides as a runner, but also began to have confidence in himself and his ability as a runner,” Coach Diglio says. “Alex used that momentum, experience, and newfound confidence into his junior year. This spring, he was our top middle-distance runner. He is poised for a big senior season.”

Alex has some major goals as he enters his senior year at H-K. He is hoping to win the 800 at Shorelines again, make All-State in track, and finish in top three at both Shorelines and states for cross country.

While his first year as a Haddam-Killingworth athlete ended abruptly, Alex never used his injury as an excuse. Alex is exactly where he wants to be right now. Alex feels honored to compete for the Cougars and says that being an H-K runner is teaching him lifelong lessons that he will keep him long after high school.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities this team has given to me. Our record of success reflects the positive and committed team atmosphere that is created by my teammates and coaches,” says Alex. “I owe a lot to this team in terms of teaching me about discipline, focus, and handling failures along the way. Being a runner here has been a really rewarding experience that I really am very grateful for.”

Alex Lara helped the H-K boys’ cross country team defend its Shoreline Conference title by claiming first place in the 800 at the league meet this spring. Photo courtesy of Alex Lara