In November, Liam Anderson found himself in the company of one at the CIF North Coast Cross Country Section Championship in Hayward, California.
It was unusual in the sense that Anderson, a senior at Larkspur Redwood (CA) High School and one of the top cross country runners in the country, wasn't going for any records but rather was aiming for a quick finish during a trying time, as wildfires had whipped across the northern California region over that span.
"To be out there and have the privilege to race in the greater context of a lot of hardship and suffering around that region made me grateful for the opportunity," said Anderson, who finished the 3-mile course first in 15:02.70. "It was about the bigger picture."
Looking back, Anderson says that moment is one he'll remember from a record-breaking season.
It ultimately motivated him toward achieving even great heights, as he captured the nation's best season on his way to his first Nike Cross Nationals title, and a meet record, in December.
On Wednesday, Gatorade named him its National Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
"I think for me, Gatorade's award is the crowning achievement of four years of hard work for me," Anderson said. "Not just from an athletic sense, but also in the classroom and in the volunteering I've done. It's rewarding and a true honor."
Anderson, a Stanford University signee, was surprised in his high school's cafeteria, where he was met by cameras and handfuls of friends, family and coaches.
"I walked in thinking we were doing a quick thing with friends," he said. "I looked around and there were a few more people than normal to be a small thing.
"Definitely (felt) surprise," he added. "I was not expecting that. After my initial surprise from what was going on, I was definitely super happy to have received the award and excited."
For Anderson, the season brought success after success.
He was direct in his schedule, ran with purpose, and never lost over five races, securing his second straight CIF Division 3 State Cross Country Championship in a personal record 5K time of 14:55.30.
He then went on to win his first national title at Nike Cross Nationals, where positioning and a dramatic close saw him become the first boy in the race's tenure at Glendoveer Golf Course to break 15 minutes. In winning NXN in a record of 14:57.60, he also became the first boy from California to earn the country's top honor.
"Ever since last year getting third -- I was really going for the win last year, too -- and I think I really just ran out of room coming up the last hill," Anderson said back in December. "So that's haunted me a little bit the past year, and I was looking forward to (today) to give it another go."
Other big wins included Anderson's season debut at the Clovis Invitational, where he ran 14:57.80, and a win at the CIF North Coast Section in 15:02.70.
Anderson was the runner-up at the CIF Championships in his sophomore season and finished 31st as a freshman.
In his spare time, Anderson is a Certified Wilderness First Responder and is a member of the Marin County Search and Rescue Team. "That's something I put hundreds of hours a year into and respond to maybe 20 or so calls a year," he said. "It's a huge part of what I do."
He maintains a 4.26 GPA in the classroom.
Winning Gatorade's top award was rewarding in a lot of ways, but it also helped reinforce all the work Anderson put behind the scenes.
"I think it's really just icing on the cake," he said.
Gatorade Champions Since 2007:
- 2018: Liam Anderson, Redwood (CA), NXN
- 2017: Aidan Troutner, Timpview (UT), NXN
- 2016: Casey Clinger, American Fork (UT), NXN
- 2015: Drew Hunter, Loudoun Valley (VA), FLN
- 2014: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), FLN
- 2013: Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc (MI), FLN
- 2012: Edward Cheserek, St. Benedict's (NJ), FLN
- 2011: Futsum Zeinasellassie, North Central (IN), NXN -- also second at FLN
- 2010: Lukas Verzbicas, Sandburg (IL), FLN & NXN
- 2009: Lukas Verzbicas, Sandburg (IL), FLN
- 2008: Reed Connor, The Woodlands (TX), NXN
- 2007: Chris Derrick, Neuqua Valley (IL), NXN -- also second at FLN
- Gatorade's State-By-State XC Athlete Of The Year Winners
- MileSplit California's Runner Of The Year
- The 7 Best Individual Seasons Of 2018
- Recapping The Record Setting Day For Boys At NXN
- Liam Opens Season With A Big Win