Friday afternoon in Bradenton, having spent the earlier part of the week and day taking advanced placement exams, Austin Camps will race the 3200-meter run at the Florida High School Athletic Association State Track and Field Championships finals.
Then he will get in the car and race home to Brevard, where at 7 a.m. at Wickham Park in Melbourne, he will start the Run for the Gecko 5K, the final event in the Running Zone Foundation Race Series.
“I’ll be tired, but I won’t break tradition,” he says.
The tradition is going into its 13th year, and when Camps started it, he was 5 years old.
“I’ve been running since I was 4. I started running because my parents wanted me to try a new thing, and I liked it right away. It gives you time with your thoughts. It is good, clear-thinking time,” says Camps, clearly a thoughtful man.
He also clearly is a fast one, with the second-best time among all Brevardians at last year’s state cross country meet, no small feat when you consider that first among all Brevardians was one of the area’s all-time prep running greats, Steven Cross. Camps, a junior, ran it in 16 minutes, 16 seconds, 12th in the 3A race.
The Melbourne Beach resident also finished third in regional competition in the 3200M, which is why he will be in Bradenton on Friday.
“I prefer cross country a lot because it is more interesting. There’s more to see (on a cross country course), when you’re not just running around a track,” he says.
Either way, he will be doing what he has loved since he was a very young child and about which he became ardent as a middle school runner under the guidance of Jason Whitworth, the inspirational science teacher and cross country coach, who was diagnosed in 2011 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s Disease — the progressive paralyzer and killer.
“He played a big part in helping me when I was in seventh grade,” Camps says. “That’s when I really started to become passionate about running.”
So he runs his share of organized races, and though he has tried other distances, still prefers the 5K, mainly for the reasons of a thinker.
“I guess I like the 5K just because it gives me just enough time to think and just enough time to get in other people’s heads (about how to run the race),” he says.
The Gecko, however, is a pretty congenial affair, another of those parties that happen to be attached to a run involving several hundred people.
This one, which benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training, includes pancakes and eggs for all, with strawberries and champagne for runners 21 years old and older, according to race director Denise Piercy. Everyone also will get birthday cake because, in Piercy’s words, “You don’t turn 13 every day.”
You also don’t bid farewell to your longtime venue every day, and this one, in the vicinity of the Wickham Park pavilion, behind Eastern Florida State College, is part of the school’s expansion plans.
The race will be moved to elsewhere in the park next year, its location already assured near the community center, Piercy said.
Camps probably will be there too, having one year of high school to complete before he heads for college, perhaps to take pre-med courses. The rest depends on the education.
But Camps definitely will be there Saturday, “just hoping for something in the 17s or 18s” on four hours of sleep. “I might be super-sore, but I will be there,” he says.
Also, just after the finish line will be a tent where people can pick up their seven-race finisher medal. For the first time, participants who did all seven events in the Running Zone Race Series this year will get a special finisher medal. A star on a runner’s bib will denote that a runner has done all seven races.
The Running Zone will send out an email this week with last minute race instructions, and a provided link will allow people to check to see if they are qualified to get the medal.
Run for the Gecko 5K
When: 7 a.m. Saturday
Where: Wickham Park Pavilion, 3845 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne
Why: Brevard County Chapter, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training
Course: Behind Eastern Florida State College to Titan Boulevard, north to Post Road, west to Wickham Road, east on Leisure Way and back.
Registration: https://secure.runningzone.com/runforthegecko; ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, May 5; day-of-race registration starts at 6 a.m. Saturday
Fees: $30 per adult or $15 per child in advance, $35 and $20 on race day
Packet pickup: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Running Zone, 3696 N. Wickham Road