By Kyle LoJacono
Ermias Bireda has never competed in a hurdles race, but the Wiregrass Ranch senior might be an expert on running through such obstacles after the last six months.
Bireda ended the 2011 cross country season as the 15th fastest racer at the Class 3A state meet, completing the 5-kilometer course in a personal record (PR) 16 minutes 9.1 seconds.
He maintained that positive momentum during the track season, claiming district championships in the 1,600- (4:31.54) and 3,200-meter (10:04.19) and a regional crown in the 1,600 (4:26.43).
His run of strong performances continued during the 3A track final. Bireda was solidly in third place rounding the last turn of the 1,600. Less than 200 meters separated him from his first state medal.
That’s when fate started throwing him curve balls.
Bireda was tripped from behind by one of his competitors. As he fell to the track, his opportunity to have a state medal placed around his neck was dashed.
“It’s most definitely motivation,” Bireda said. “It’s really hard to forget that. … I don’t think I’ve ever been so mad when that happened. I looked up and saw all those kids passing me.”
Bireda still managed to finish 12th out of 15 runners in 4:34.05, but unfortunately for him the difficult string of events wasn’t done.
Spurred by the disappointing end to his track season, Bireda pushed himself like never before during the summer. In fact, he overdid his training.
“The main reason I think it happened was I jumped my mileage up too much in one week,” Bireda said. “It happened in early August. … I was running in the low 60s miles per week, and I jumped to the high 70s.”
The result was inflammation in his left shin, which kept him out of practice for about a month.
“He was in really good shape,” said Bulls coach Chris Loth. “I think in terms of this summer as good as anyone we’ve ever had. He’s staying in shape really well. He’s aqua jogging, staying in the gym and doing anything he can. … It’s killing him not to be out here. He never wants to miss a practice. He’s chomping at the bit.”
Bireda said the internal drive to be as prepared as possible for his senior season was too great to not push himself to the limit during the summer.
“Socially he’s a laid back person, but competitively he’s a Type A,” Loth said. “He just wants to run. He doesn’t want to miss a workout or a meet ever. He’s keeping a good frame of mind, and keeping the big picture in mind, which is the end of the season.”
Bireda said that competitive nature developed during the track season last spring when he started winning titles.
“I was competing with the top guys and getting wins,” Bireda said. “I wasn’t just running for times anymore. It’s a different feeling.”
Bireda began running track while in eighth grade at John Long Middle. That is where Loth first saw his talent.
“I coached him in middle school at John Long, and he broke the mile record there (5:09),” Loth said. “He was one spot away from competing in the state meet as a freshman, so he was a solid top-eight runner as a freshman.”
Eighth grade was also when Bireda met his current teammates Thor Alastre and Ben Hall, both seniors.
“It’s been really tough seeing him hurt because you can tell it’s messing with him,” Hall said. “He doesn’t like being hurt and not being able to run. That’s his big passion, running. … He is the most dedicated person I’ve met. He’s the hardest working kid. Any goal he makes, he strives to get it.”
Alastre added, “Ermias is an inspiration. He’s a freak of nature. It’s an honor running with him. He’s the most hardworking person I know. … He’s going to overcome this. I’m 100 percent sure of that.”
Loth said Bireda started running with the team last week. The plan is for him to practice for four weeks before entering into a competition.
“He may go to the line and see what he has, but he’s not really going to be full bore for several weeks,” Loth said.
Bireda said his goal is to cut his time to less than 15:40 by the end of the season, but the drive to do so isn’t for himself.
“It’s not so much pressure on myself, but I want to help the team as much as I can.”