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Sophomore track and field phenom takes the Ledger’s first Fleet of Foot Award with blazing speed in

White Knoll, SC (Paul Kirby) – Sophomore Nathanial Wilburn, a student at White Knoll High School, won the Lexington Ledger’s first annual Fleet of Foot Award last Saturday by turning in the fastest time of all the Lexington County student athletes that participated in the White Knoll Patriot Run 5-K cross country race. He turned in a blazing pace of 16:36, beating his own personal best in a 5-K (3.1 miles) by 1:20.

In interviewing this young man after the race, I thought I was talking to a much more seasoned athlete, certainly not a sophomore at a local high school. Perhaps I was speaking with a successful Olympian who had just taken home more than some local accolades, a plaque from his local newspaper, and certainly more than the $75 prize, a little bounty for being the fastest student athlete in a local charity race. This young man is to say the least, impressive!

I need to pause here and remind you that the author of this has been interviewing people regularly on any and all subjects for more than thirty years and I am NOT that easily impressed. I have written about winners and losers of all types. I have listened as politicians have rambled about how they would fix all our problems, and I’ve heard all about why others lost in what “looked” like a fair fight, but somehow wasn’t.

I have interviewed new parents, the parents of children who’ve passed too soon, and great-great-grands, centenarian plus, who’ve clocked 105 years and are still counting.

I’ve written about the good guys, interviewed some of the worst, and even caught heat recently by writing about a really bad guy who tried unsuccessfully to explain why he beat the mother of his children. I have pretty much written it all in my career, and I am not easy to impress, yet I was! Nathaniel Wilburn is a young man who is more than fast, he has a heart, a spirit, and a sense of humility that I think we could all learn something from.

I began by asking Nathaniel a few questions, as I usually do when I interview, and then I let him go. He could have easily have spent the next ten minutes talking about his speed, yes, he’s very fast, or about how great he was at what he does, and yes, he is; instead he gave thanks to everyone who contributed to his training, his parents, his coaches, and especially to God.

When Nathaniel talked about his parents, he spoke of their support, their caring, their guidance and the way they provide direction in his life. His constant “yes sir and no sir,” made me quickly understand someone was raising him with manners and a level of respect that can be too rare these days.

Nathaniel talked about Coach Helms, White Knoll’s strength and conditioning coach, who came from the collegiate level to work with the young athletes here locally. He spoke about Dean Coach Howell, White Knoll’s AD, and the quality team he’s built. He talked all about his team-mates, and how they’ve encouraged him, in truth he talked about everyone but himself.

Eventually, I was able to steer the conversation back around to Nathaniel, because in truth he was the one who took the award Saturday, and even then, he talked with a wisdom worthy of someone much older than he.

He’s a huge Florida Gators fan and wants to go to school at the University of Florida once his high school days are behind him. I’m sure that won’t be a problem as it certainly appears as if any school track team would love to have him and offers will be there. He is looking forward to a few more years of high school first, because he knows he has to learn, to age, to mature in himself and the sport, and in life a little more.

I asked him what the $75 he won Saturday would be spent on. Of course, this young man was not what I expected here either. No trips with friends to the mall, no cell phone upgrades or new clothes for himself; Nathaniel is saving that money to use on his church’s missions trip to Japan this summer. He and his family attend St. Andrews Evangelical Church in Columbia. After all I’ve already said, would you expect less?

He has a younger brother, who he spoke fondly of. He’s a runner as well. He’s a freshman who Nathaniel says helps to push him to be better while he helps to nurture and bring his brother along, sharing some words of encouragement and good natured challenges along the way. If his brother is anything like the older of the pair, he’ll certainly see success as well.

The Lexington Ledger’s first Fleet of Foot Award was just meant to be a little fun really. It was a small plaque, backed by a little cash, to see if we, meaning the board of directors of the White Knoll Business Coalition, could get some more students from other schools across the area to run in our 5-K. I’m not sure it worked in that way, but it excelled in another. We found an exceptional young man who is an inspiration if you would just spend a few moments getting to know him.

Last Saturday, the first annual Lexington Ledger Fleet of Foot Award went to an fast young man that we all could learn something from. Congratulations Nathanial Wilburn. I don’t think we could have ever found a more deserving, more inspirational athlete to give this little award to.

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Call Paul Kirby

(803) 587-3144