103119_dnr_AustinArt

East Rockingham sophomore George Austin III crosses the finish line to win the Bull Run District boys cross country meet last month at New Market Battlefield.

SALEM — After embracing family members with tears streaming down their face just beyond the finish line, George Austin III put his hands above his head and let out a grin that stretched across his face and brought out dimples on both sides too big to hide.

The East Rockingham sophomore knew what he accomplished, but it hadn't hit him yet.

"I was the underdog coming into the race," said Austin, who just started running last year. "I was ranked eighth and I'm only a sophomore. I think it's an underdog story."

Austin ran a season-best time of 16:00 to cruise to the Virginia High School League Class 2 boys cross country championship Saturday at Green Hill Park in Salem.

The East Rockingham sophomore is the first city/county runner to capture a state championship since Spotswood's Joseph Gibson took home gold in 1994.

"I love representing my school and my area," Austin said. "I think the Shenandoah Valley is very underestimated in how competitive we are. There are so many good runners from there. To come here and get a state championship and to be able take it back home, it just feels good to represent not only my school but my entire area."

Austin, who was a former standout on the basketball court for the Eagles and started running cross country a year ago, entered Saturday's meet ranked eighth overall.

Before the meet, his best time of the season was 16:43 and Chatham's Caleb Wright was favored to win the race by more than 35 seconds with personal best of 16:08.

But Austin, who has insisted after each big win this season that he had more in the tank, took his running to another level Saturday and shattered every record he has ever set.

"My plan was to stick behind Caleb Wright," Austin said. "I knew I was like 20 or 30 seconds behind him [in the preliminary rankings], but I was determined to stick with him. With 400 meters to go, I saw him drop back five meters and I was like, 'Just go.' That right there, after the first few miles, that's when it hit me that I had a chance to win this. I looked in the crowd and saw my friends and family and my legs just went, man."

Austin, the Bull Run District and Region 2B champion, emerged on the cross country scene last year and finished sixth at the 2018 VHSL Class 2 meet with a time of 17:10.

This season, Austin made it a goal to finish even better and stayed true to his word.

"I wouldn't think this would ever happen, but looking back, this was always the plan," Austin said. "I made a checklist with three goals on an index card. The final point - it was a stretch - it was to get a state championship. It's made it all so worth it. I've worked five months for this moment. It feels great."

Down the final stretch, Austin kicked it into a second gear to pull away for the win.

He said all the hard work he did in the months leading up to Saturday provided him the motivation in the closing moments of the race to pull away for the historic victory.

"I didn't know where he was," Austin said. "I didn't want to look behind me and waste time. He could've been behind me or 200 meters behind me, but I didn't want to take any chances. I've worked my butt off for five months. I wasn't losing in the final stretch."

As family members gathered around, sharing hugs and tears in celebration, Austin said he couldn't help but reflect on all of the hard work he put in to reach that point.

And although it was taking some time, he said he knows it'll eventually sink in.

"It's still hitting me," Austin said. "The feeling is surreal. I still feel like I'm in a dream. I dreamed about this race in my sleep and visualized it. I've been studying the course. Every day when I run, I visualized this moment."

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