Photo by Keith McCoy.
Donda Pausic lay in a hospital birthing room at Brookwood Hospital 17 years ago awaiting three bundles of joy.
Baby Boy Pausic No. 1 arrived. Baby Boy No. 2 appeared. Then trailing the pack, came Baby Boy No. 3.
That’s virtually the last time Dylan Pausic has trailed the pack.
Pausic, a senior at Shades Mountain Christian School, has been in a rush ever since. The defending boys state cross country champion has his eyes set on a second Class 1A-2A title and a state record.
Last season at the cross country championships, Pausic finished 46 seconds ahead of the runner-up. His time was 16:22.81 for the 5K distance. Had he been pushed at all, he’d most assuredly broken the state record. He was only a second off the 1A-2A record of 16:21.50.
“My personal best is 16:08,” Pausic said. “At state, I knew I had it won so I was just cruising. I didn’t know I was that close to the record.”
Pausic was a soccer player, not a runner, when the SMC soccer coach told the then-freshman he ought to try running, since he was clearly the fastest on the team.
He qualified for the state meet as a freshman, finishing just outside the mark for All-State honors. As a sophomore, he was state runner-up. Then he captured the individual title last year.
Now he’s got his sights set on another state title, a state record and a college scholarship.
At larger schools, teams with more depth and faster runners push each other, and that daily competition makes runners better. Pausic is by far the top runner on his team. His brother Drew has also qualified for state – and the remainder of the team shows up en masse to cheer their teammate at state championships.
But Pausic’s coach, Glenn Ross, acknowledges it’s not the same as physically pushing him every day in practice, which is where runners usually learn how to push through discomfort, develop tough-mindedness and acquire discipline and dedication.
“Dylan has to push himself right now because nobody on the team is really close, no one has his work ethic,” Ross said.
Ross said Pausic competed last fall in races with runners from Homewood, Hoover and Oak Mountain. At a run at Spain Park, he placed fourth. The runners who beat him were Homewood’s defending 5A state champion Andy Smith, Opelika Ben Bryant who went on to take the 6A state champion last year, and Oak Mountain’s Cole Stidfole, who ended up third in Class 7A.
“So when Dylan goes against those guys, they’re probably going to beat him because they’ve got those guys pushing each other in practice every day, but he hangs pretty good. But he’s doing all the work himself,” Ross said.
Pausic is philosophical about that and takes the challenge head on.
“In cross country, I really feel like you’re competing with yourself,” Pausic said. “It’s just how willing you are to push yourself to win it. I like competing against myself. That’s what I like about it.”
And he gives his teammates credit for their encouragement, always rooting him on.
“They motivate me a lot. They’re always on the side cheering me on at certain mile marks and they’re always screaming for me,” Pausic said.
“He’s got a great work ethic,” Ross said. “You tell him what to do and he’ll go do it and try to do extra. He’s a highly motivated individual and he runs with a lot of heart.”
Pausic, who is 5-6 and 130 pounds, maintains a good diet and health regimen, but he said mental toughness is as important as physical strength.
“It’s probably more mental than physical,” Pausic said. “It hurts a lot more to say you’ve got to keep going when you’re pretty much dying and you’ve just got to keep going.”
College coaches have their eyes on him as he enters his senior year. Even though Pausic’s at a small school, his time places him among the top seven returning prep runners across any classification and fifth among seniors. He’s drawn interest from Alabama, Auburn, Samford and West Alabama.
Pausic said he’s thought about going to a bigger high school where he might get more recognition and be pushed by other runners, but he said he loves his school and Ross is a great motivator.
Ross tosses the compliment back. “You hear people say the great athlete makes a great coach, and that’s kind of the thing with Dylan.”