Running for your high school track team presents so many opportunities. Team building, goal setting, and self-confidence are just a few of the benefits that come with a commitment to running. And during the championship portion of the season, athletes get the opportunity to chase their goals.

Track and field has played a key role in the lives of Crayton Carroza, Meagan Riley, Walker Hendricks, Chandon Chhikara, and Billy Clark. They are faces in the crowd of the Austin high school running scene, and they were kind enough to share their inspiring stories with The Loop.

Crayton Carrozza
Austin St. Stephens High School
Class of 2019

Despite what his many accolades may suggest, Crayton Carrozza didn’t start running competitively until recently. His parents, former RunTex store owner Paul and his wife Sheila, a former elite runner who competed in the 3000m at the 1993 World Championships, held off on introducing their son to the sport until his freshman year of high school. As Crayton says, they didn’t want him to burn out. Now a junior at St. Stephens, Crayton is all about running and loves racing more than anything else.

That passion for racing is evident not only in his marks, but in his fierce racing style. His most recent performance was a quadruple crown and three championship meet records. At the SPC Championships last weekend, Crayton won the 800m, the 1600m, and the 3200m in dominating fashion. He also anchored the 4x800m relay team to victory. He won the 800m in 1:53, the 1600m in 4:16, and the 3200m in a personal best of 9:15. Prior to SPCs, Crayton unleashed a breakthrough when he ran a personal best of 4:11 at the prestigious Texas Relays. The performance ranks Crayton No. 26 in the nation among high school competitors.

After completing a monumental track season, Crayton is embracing the college recruiting process and the endless possibilities of a senior year.

Can you break down each race from your quadruple crown at SPCs?
For the two mile, I was going into it just to try and get the win. I was ready to run a 9:40 just to win it and sit and kick on the last lap. But Travis my teammate was right behind me and we had someone else with us. So he kept pushing me and we went out in 4:45. Travis kept getting closer and saying, “Let’s go. We need to drop this guy.” After that, I started picking it up and the last two laps were pretty hard. We went 4:45 for the first mile and 4:30 for the second one. I couldn’t believe my time was 9:15. It was super exciting because I wasn’t trying to get the record and I did.

For the 4x800m relay, we were really close with St. Johns. They were seated ahead of us by 0.3 seconds or something like that. But two weekends before we raced them at a meet and we beat their “B” team and got really close to their time so we knew it was going to be really close….We got the win and it was super fun.

I really wanted the record in the 800m, but I was nervous because I had already done the two mile and the 4x800m. I took it out the first lap, and I don’t remember what I ran but with 300m to go, I hit the backstretch and the wind was hitting me so hard, but I pushed through it. I went and got the record and was super excited about that.

For the mile, I was pretty tired. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get the record but I was going to try and go for the win and see how the race developed. By the 200m of the first lap, everyone had given me the lead so I figured I’d go for the record. I went out pretty slow, in 70 seconds, then a 68, 68, and a 57. I wasn’t sure after the first lap but then after the second two I knew I was going to go for it. Into my fourth lap we were at 3:18 or something like that, so I knew I just needed a sub-60. I just sprinted the last lap and came through in 4:16 and got it. It was pretty good.

How did it feel to run 4:11 at Texas Relays earlier this year?
That was super crazy. I don’t remember exactly what we went out in for the first two laps, but we went through in 2:10ish and I think a 64 and a 58. I knew it was going to be a sit and kick race, because of the pack and how the racing worked, I was in lane three at one point so that was a little hard, but I had to do it to stay in the race. I positioned myself in the last 400m and sprinted in the last 200m. I got passed, but I kept going and leaned forward and tripped and fell at the finish line. I heard the whole stadium go, “OOOOOOO!” That was really exciting. It was so fun.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mom always tells me to stay in the race and go with them. If the leaders move forward, then don’t let them drop you. Also, this one guy that we met in California told me “If you can’t beat them, use them.” It was my dad’s coach in college who told me that.

What have you learned from this breakthrough season?
What I’ve learned this season is even if you’re alone, don’t be afraid to push yourself.

Walker Hendricks
Banquete High School
Class of 2019

Walker Hendricks qualified for the UIL Championships after finishing third in the 3200m at the Region 4-3A Championships. He accomplished the feat by running a personal best of 9:37. The breakthrough performance qualified the junior for his first Texas state meet.

Why do you run?
I run because I love to prove people wrong. I started running in the 8th grade when a coach told me “You cannot run cross country because you are overweight.” Hearing this was very disheartening at first, but then I realized how good it would feel to lose all of this weight to run cross country and actually be good at it. I was approximately 210 pounds so no one thought there was a chance in hell that I would ever stick with running or lose a bunch of weight. Now that I have achieved a big goal of mine it feels really good to know that I’ve proved a bunch of people wrong that never thought I would be where I am today!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your running career?
The best advice that I’ve received in my career is that you have to work till you no longer have to introduce yourself. Not very many people know me or my name right now like some of the other guys I train with. I want to be able to step on the line and have everyone in the field already know my name and know that when Walker Hendricks is in the race it’s going to be a fast one. Also, you have to feel like there is someone who is always training harder than you so you can’t slack off or take a day off, you have to have that sense of fear that someone is always training harder than you.

What are you trying to accomplish at the state meet this weekend?
Like many, I plan to win the race. I’m going to go out there and put my whole heart into the race and let the chips fall where they land. It’s going to be really fun race and I’m super excited for it!

Meagan Riley
Llano High School
Class of 2018
College: Tarleton State University

Meagan Riley earned her place in the UIL Championships when she qualified in the 1600m and 3200m at the Region 3-4A Meet. The senior finished second in the 1600m and the 3200m. In the 1600m, she ran 5:21 (a 12-second personal best) and 11:44 in the 3200m, a 10-second improvement. Meagan transitioned into distance running in 2017 after starting her track career as a hurdler and long jumper. She has made great progress in a short amount of time as this weekend will mark her first Texas state meet. She plans to compete for the cross country and track team at Tarleton State University in the fall.

How did you start running?
During my sophomore year, my mom and dad got divorced and it kind of put a lot of stress on me. So I thought, you know what, I’m just going to run and get some stress out. That’s how it all started and I just started to really love running.

What do you remember most from your breakthrough performances at the Region 3-4A Meet?
In the 3200m, I was in first place. It was a lot of determination. I wanted it so bad. I was in pain most of the way, but I just wanted it and I didn’t care if I killed myself trying to finish and make it to state. A girl passed me on the last 100m but I told myself it was ok and to keep going, you’re going to make it. I ended up passing out after I crossed the finish line because I laid it all out there. My dad said my lips were blue, and I was just tapping on my watch saying I PRed! I ran 11:44! I thought breaking 12 minutes was impossible. I never thought I’d ever get to that, but I did eventually and it’s a great feeling.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received during your running career?
The best piece of advice that I’ve received is “It’s going to hurt no matter how hard you go or how slow you go so you might as well just push through it and go as hard as you can. Don’t pace yourself, just go with it.” Coach [Chris] Schrader told me that. He said, “I know you, I think you can do a lot more than you think you can.” He always tells me that “We’re just scratching the edge.” He’s put more confidence and more positivity in me than any other coach I’ve had.

What is your goal for the UIL Championship this weekend?
I’m hoping to win the race. If that doesn’t happen, I’m hoping to medal. I think having all of that competition will make me PR big time. I told myself before regionals that I would just be happy making it to state, but now I’m getting more nervous and wanting to win and beat people.

I only started back up in running my junior year, but I think it’s amazing how much I’ve progressed in such a short amount of time. A lot of people wouldn’t like to get up at 5:30 a.m. like I do or run in the heat just to get a workout in. But I am always determined to do my very best in practice and to get my workout in no matter what it takes. I’d say I’m very determined.

Chandon Chhikara
St. Andrews
Class of 2018
College: Pepperdine

In his final competition for St. Andrews High School, Chandon Chhikara made the moment count. He finished third in the 1600m and the 3200m at the SPC Championships. In the process, he ran personal bests of 4:29 in the 1600m and 9:32 in the 3200m. He is coached by famed runner and coach Gilbert Tuhabonye, the founder of Gilbert’s Gazelles.

Chandon started his athletic career as a basketball player and decided to run on his own in an attempt to get faster on the court. He started to run four miles every single day and eventually received some encouragement from a friend to try out for the cross country team. He joined the cross country team in his sophomore year and grew to like the sport. By his junior year, he wanted to get faster and decided to commit to track. That decision paid off when he improved from 31st to eighth-place at the conference meet.

Chhikara will be competing on the Pepperdine track and cross country team in the fall.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve received?
Gilbert tells us to run with joy. It’s hard to apply in a race when you’re dying and all you can think about is finishing, but it really helps to remind yourself that this is fun. Don’t let a moment get too big for you. At the end of the day, it’s about going out there and enjoying the run.

Billy Clark
St. Andrews
Class of 2018

This year, Billy Clark was granted a big honor on the St. Andrews track team. The coaches gave him the responsibility of being team captain and he embraced the role. During his final track meet as part of the St. Andrews team, Clark finished third in the 400m, 4th in the 200m, and contributed to St. Andrews’ fourth-place finish in the 4x400m relay. He walked away with personal bests of 22.45 in the 200m and 49.69 in the 400m dash. Billy wants to go to college and study to become a physician someday.

What has been your favorite moment as team captain this year?
I think it was one of the first two meets, and we did not have a 4x100m team because one of the guys was hurt. So I said, “Don’t worry, take care of yourself. I’ll put together a team.” 10 minutes before the race, I threw together a 4x100m team. We set the order and we ended up doing pretty well. I think we came within two seconds of the school record and we just stuck with that order for the whole year. The guys are pretty young and so they’re set up for success in the future.

Who has helped influence your career?
My mom is a really big supporter for me. After every race, I try and ice and recover as fast as possible. She’s always super great with getting ice. The day before a meet she always asks me what Italian place I want to go to. With five other sisters, it’s definitely crazy and sometimes I’m just mind-blown at how she manages everything. She’s definitely really really helpful.

I don’t think I could be where I am without her. It makes me happy when she’s really happy. When I broke 50 [seconds] this past weekend, she was screaming all the way across the stands. I’ll definitely remember that forever.

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