Champions aren’t measured just by the number of medals they accumulate.
A true champion validates that status by exhibiting the perseverance to forge ahead — particularly at times when facing less than desirable conditions or circumstances. Liam Conway found himself in that position this past fall season, and his determination to go head-on into the fray went a long way toward him becoming The Mercury’s All-Area Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Conway’s bid to cap his junior year in a big way was thwarted by an injury to the left sartorius muscle prior to the PIAA Championship meet on Nov. 5. He ended up finishing outside the Top 100, after winning the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s meet for the first time and adding a Top 10 outing in the District 1 Class AAA race.
But in true champion fashion, Conway wouldn’t consider sitting out the state meet.
“I’m the only one who could gauge it,” he said. “I could have stopped, but I wanted to finish.”
The sartorius muscle — the longest one in the human body — is a long, thin, superficial muscle that runs down the length of the thigh in the anterior compartment. Its upper portion forms the lateral border of the femoral triangle.
Conway recalled noticing the injury in the time frame between the league and district meets. It didn’t stop him from a sixth-place finish at Lehigh University, which represented considerable improvement from his 28th-place showing his sophomore year.
“Surprisingly well,” he said of his district run. “But after three weeks, (the injury) caught up to me.”
Three weeks of down time following the state meet figured to be what Conway needed to be back in business for the winter and spring track seasons.
“Rest is the main cure,” he said.
Conway’s season started out with the same degree of promise he experienced as a sophomore.
He won all Roberts’ dual meets in the PAC’s Liberty Division in dominant fashion, then placed first in the league’s championship meet by a 10-second margin over Shane Ainscoe and Spring-Ford’s vaunted pack. One week later, he was sixth in District 1’s Class AAA race — the PAC’s runaway top placer with a 15:40 clocking, and its lone runner to score a Top 25 finish.
But it came undone at states. The injury caught up to him on Hershey’s revamped Parkview Course, leaving him outside the Top 100 finishers with a time of 17:20 that was two seconds behind the area-best 17:18 Ainscoe ran.
“Knowing I finished second last year, I’d be the top returner,” Conway said in handicapping the 2016 season. “Spring-Ford had a strong pack, and there are so many different guys that are excellent. I didn’t want to get my head too high.”
“That’s his focus up here (mental),” OJR head coach Dave Michael said. “His focus and preparation are tremendous, not just for him, but for his teammates.
“Last year the training group was tighter. But the goal was the same: Do well as a group.”
Conway’s other credits during the season were firsts at the Centaur Invitational and Harrier meet, a third at the PIAA Foundation event and a sixth in the Paul Short Run’s brown race. In addition to breaking the program’s record on its home course at Warwick County Park, he also qualified for states a third time.
His times in PAC dual meets were highlighted by a 16:48 on his home course during a Sept. 21 race with Boyertown, a 16:12 two weeks later against Methacton, and a 15:48 on Spring-Ford’s course during their Liberty Division duel.
“Winning (PACs) was one of my biggest goals,” he said. “At districts, I was definitely focused on a higher finish and better time.”
Only three seconds separated Conway and Ainscoe after one mile of the PAC race. At that stage, he opened the distance between him and Spring-Ford’s pack of runners.
“Leading the pack at the start, I gauged the other runners,” Conway recalled. “At the end of the first mile, I started the gap and took off at that point. It was a smart move.
“I knew the Spring-Ford guys were hard to crack,” he said after the race. “They were with me the entire time. It was a mental battle.”
He had a similar experience at districts. While finishing 20 seconds behind race-winner Rusty Kujdych of Neshaminy, Conway had Council Rock North’s Tim Haas and William Tennent’s Evan Hutton a second ahead of him at the one-mile mark. They sandwiched him at the two-mile mark, Hutton with a two-second lead and Haas four behind.
But he rose to the occasion in the stretch, going on to cross the line one second ahead of the duo.
“The last 800, I had something left,” he recalled.
With his injury healed, Conway will be occupying his time the rest of the school year running for the boys’ track teams.
“I’m happy with the season. I had a large increase in mileage, better 5K times. Next year, I should improve.”
Successfully defending his PAC meet championship is a priority. But he’s not booking the outcome before the 2017 season.
“When I look back, I can’t be defined by the injury,” he said. “Winning the PAC was a huge accomplishment. But winning the PAC this year doesn’t mean I’ll do it next year.”