* Luca Parker finished 21st at the GHSA Class 6A State Cross Country Championships in 2019
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Heading into his final year at Johns Creek (GA) High School, Luca Parker was just beginning to figure out himself out as a runner.
A late arrival into the ranks of cross country and track and field, he joined both programs over his junior seasons and found potential in himself in that first year, hitting times of 18:00.58 for 5K and 4:44.51 in the 1,600m and 10:40.40 in the 3,200m.
That was all he needed. His entry into the sport drove him to new lengths, and the following calendar year he became the Gladiators' No. 1 runner, ran the school's fourth-fastest time ever in 16:41.51, and qualified for the Georgia Class 6A Championships, where he finished 21st overall.
Then not too long after, quarantine sidelined competition. The state athletic association of Georgia, the GHSA, made the decision to cancel spring sports championships in April.
Not only were his state qualifying hopes dashed, like thousands of other athletes across the country, but dreams of school records were also erased. Now, Parker wasn't vying for national titles or records, but like many others in his same position, the opportunity to hit long-term goals presented all he ever wanted from the sport.
"It's hard to describe where my motivation comes from," he said. "When I started running, it came at a really good time for me because my freshman and sophomore years of high school weren't great. I was experiencing a slump.
"But once I joined cross country my junior year, it improved all aspects of my life. So because of that, I've had a really close connection with running in general and now I'm super passionate about getting my times down."
* Luca Parker's 2:00.49 time trial in the 800m
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Like many others, Parker has come to terms with what has been taken from him and has been driven to to achieve the goals he set out to accomplish in the first place.
"At the beginning of the season, I kind of saw that I had a decent chance of breaking the school record in the 800m and the mile," he said. "So that's what I've been trying to do over this time trial season."
He's certainly remained true to that.
Since April, the future enrollee at Ohio State University -- he says he may try to walk-on to the Buckeyes program if the opportunity presents itself -- has scored big PRs in every one of his events, securing times of 53.87 in the 400m, 2:00.49 in the 800m and 4:38.57 in the 1,600m -- improvements of nearly three seconds, two seconds and six seconds, respectively.
Those times currently rank him No. 11 in the 400m, No. 16 in in the 800m and No. 50 in the mile in the MileSplit Virtual Classic.
While John Creek's school records of 1:55.13 and 4:30.00 -- both achieved by Erik Olsen in 2014 -- are still reasonably away, Parker's efforts continued to stoke his passion for this sport.
If nothing else, he says, there are key barriers he's still looking to cross.
Like Sub-2 in the 800m.
"It's a classic barrier that a lot of people try to achieve," he said. "That's where my motivation comes from."
Two weeks ago, Parker laced up for his latest 800m time trial. Only this effort came in the pouring rain. He ran 2-flat again.
"I actually think it's a good sign," he said. "I've been trianing pretty hard this week. I think that shows I can run faster if I taper and it's not raining really hard."
Parker has plans for two more big efforts -- this Saturday -- where he'll put all his cards on the table and go after those school marks in the 800m and 1,600m.
And it's there, he said, where he'll leave nothing left ... even if it's just him and the track.
"When it comes to high stakes, I perform better," he said.
Soon enough, he'll taper down and get ready for the fall -- however that structure will take place -- at Ohio State, where he will study sports medicine.
And sure, there may be times when Parker looks back on the season that wasn't. But then again, there will be others when he knows he did everything he could to reach his goals.
"Having the structure of runnign every day and putting my efforts down, it helps me in other areas of my life," he said.