Central Christian cross country standout runs to "glorify God"
The fastest schoolboy distance runner in Class 1A cannot do anything halfway. If he’s in, he’s all in. If he’s out, he’s all out.
He remembers the summer before his freshman year at Central Christian High School in Hutchinson, knowing he had to make a decision between playing football or running cross country in the fall.
For those who have watched the slightly built Collin Oswalt race, it’s probably difficult to believe that the choice was anything but easy. Run, Collin, run.
“I loved football way more,” he said.
He was really good at it, too, shredding his eighth-grade 8-man competition for 34 touchdowns from his quarterback position. “We really had zero passing game, so it was really like being a running back,” Oswalt said.
His faith is extremely important to him, so he opted to place the decision in God’s hands.
“When I started praying in the summer I was completely biased,” he said. “It was one of the things I was praying about but I loved football.
“When I made the decision, I felt that was the way God was leading me. I ended up very confident that God wanted me to run cross country.
“(But) I actually cried about it when I first told my parents. It was hard.”
His impact in cross country was immediate as he collected gold in the majority of his meets, then finished off his rookie campaign with a bronze medal at his first state competition with a run of 17 minutes, 5 seconds.
The following spring led to success on the track -- Oswalt was sixth in the 1,600 meters and fourth in the 3,200 – and it made him turn a critical eye to his diet.
“Once the running became real serious then the nutrition became real serious,” said his mother, Megan Oswalt, who took over as the school’s cross country coach this season. “He is a student of learning and he has read a couple college level books on nutrition on his own time.
“He pretty much does all his meals himself. He prepares them, he preps them. He is very strict.”
It can be hard to keep track of his successes: Last season, he secured high school gold medals in cross country (16:37.3), the 1,600 (personal best 4:29.9) and 3,200 (9:53.80). This past summer he ran 9:37.33 in the 3,200, another lifetime best, to finish eighth at the talent-laden Music City Distance Carnival in Nashville, Tenn.
A constant through his prep career, along with his hope that people “can see a bit of the glory of God” when he races, is a wad of chewing gum sticking out of his mouth. He only pops some into his mouth for races and long runs.
“I realized that I was staying a lot more relaxed and not biting on my tongue,” he said, though he has forgotten his trademark on occasion. “If I don’t chew my gun, I really work on staying relaxed.”
This past Saturday, he competed in the Gold Division at the Rim Rock Classic in Lawrence, finishing 16th in 16:32, fifth amongst juniors. In a race the previous weekend in Joplin, Mo., running gumless, he ran 16:29, placing 47th at the Southern Stampede, which was good for 21st in his grade.
“Every race I’m able to run I treat as a blessing,” he said. “This season I really haven’t had a race click yet. I had a really great summer of training so I’m waiting for a race where everything falls in place.”
His cross country PR is 15:32, which he set at last year’s Heart of the Plains League Championships. As a big fan of Steve Prefontaine, he tries to emulate the legendary runner’s style of starting fast, pushing the pace and then “hanging on with whatever I have left.”
That style doesn’t always work, but it’s the one he believes can help him achieve his goal of running sub 15:00 before he graduates from high school.
“It’s a pretty lofty goal, but I’m still working towards it,” he said. “I’m focusing on keeping my edge and putting in 100 percent on every workout. I’m always trying to make adjustments and try things that can make me better.”
As a youngster, he tried a variety of sports, from tennis to soccer, from golf to basketball. And, of course, track and football.
“He fell in love with running his freshman year and he felt like that it’s what he is supposed to do, so he stuck with it,” his mother said. “We really believe his strength down the road will be the longer distances. He is just able to maintain a fast pace for a very long time.”
Running in college is definitely something he anticipates doing as it will help him toward his goal of racing in the Olympics. He’s had several schools reach out to him – he mentioned Northern Arizona University -- and when the time comes to choose, he will look toward God for an answer.
“I definitely will look at the coach,” he said. “Faith is important to me so if that is something that is going to be a conflict, then I won’t be in acceptance of that. My number one purpose for running is to glorify God.
“And then my number one goal is I’m striving to reach the Olympics. I think that is something God has laid upon my heart. So I’m looking to do whatever can bring me closest to that.”
Find complete results from the Rim Rock boys varsity gold race here.