Photo by Robert Noles
OHS’s Ben Garner wins first three meets of cross country season
By Morgan Bryce
The preseason number one runner for Alabama’s 6A schools, Opelika High’s cross country and track and field star Ben Garner has lived up to his preseason billing, garnering three top-place finishes in his first three cross country meets.
Despite the pressure that comes with the number one ranking, Garner said he has not let that phase him.
“Me and my coach talk about the meets like they’re a business trip. I’m up here to run, and I’m up here to win. There’s no in-between,” Garner said.
Garner’s passion for running comes mostly from his father, Trip, who ran track at Mississippi College.
“When I was younger, my dad would always have me and my siblings outside being active, and when I got older, he would have me run with him in local city races … so I got into running a while back,” Garner said.
After several years of juggling basketball, soccer and track, he made the decision to fully dedicate himself to running in his sophomore year.
“It was a difficult decision to make, but I chose running because I thought I could do it at the college level,” Garner said.
Since then, he has performed incredibly well, winning multiple meets and coming in second at last year’s state championships. In addition to cross country, Garner also competes in track and field during the spring, running the 800 and 1600 meter races. He said becoming a good to great runner has been a process.
“I’ve been able to drop a minute every year since I started, which is important, but all of this didn’t mentally click until last year. Eating right and getting a lot of rest are other important things I’ve also improved on since I started in my sophomore year,” Garner said. “My motivation for improving myself is based on my will to win, because I hate losing. Every morning, I wake up and think about some other guy across the state that is probably working today, so I gotta outwork him. That’s what goes through my head every morning.”
Another important aspect to Garner’s progression as a runner is how he evaluates himself and his performance, which he said was lacking last season.
“I got down on myself for losing last year, but it really was frustrating to lose because you run so much. This year I’m up to 900 miles since June 7 … and after you put in all this time and effort, I remember getting mad and thinking to myself after state last year, ‘how did you put all this time into it, and still place second,’ “ Garner said. “But this year is different. I’m the guy to beat, but I can’t think like that. My goal is now, whoever I’m racing against, I’m going to beat them.”
His improvements and accomplishments have not gone unnoticed, as schools like Samford, Auburn, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin and Syracuse have expressed interest in him. Garner said that finding a team with a solid core of five or more talented runners is his main priority, and that he will begin making visits in the fall to the interested schools. He said he would like to be committed to a school during the early signing period, which is in November, but if necessary, will wait until the later signing period in April to make the best decision for his future.
Beyond college, Garner said one of his biggest dreams is to one day run for the U.S. team in the Olympics.
“Now that I’ve reached my goal of being one of the top in the state, I want to move it to the next level and run in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, and hopefully win gold,” Garner said.
Off the course, he said he likes to spend what little free time he has with friends, or being involved at his church, First Baptist Opelika.
Amidst all the publicity and attention his running skills have given him, Garner acknowledges that his faith and God-given talents are the main reason for his success.
“After races that I win or do well in, I have a chance to be interviewed. Since I’m given that platform, I think to myself, ‘why not use it to spread my faith?’ If I’m given that platform, I believe I need to use it for His glory,” Garner said.
Fresh off his top-place finish at Saturday’s Spain Park Cross Country Invitational, Garner and his cross country teammates’ next event is next Saturday in Columbus, Ga., at the seventh annual Spencer High Greenwave Cross Country Invitational. The next local event for the team will be the Auburn Tiger Classic on Oct. 22 at Kiesel Park in Auburn.