The chase is on for Coral Reef junior Kurt Convey.
Kurt, the son of former nine-time state champion runner Billy Convey, is chasing his father’s times, if not his Miami-Dade County records, which still stand from the 1980s.
More tangibly, Kurt is pursuing Sunset junior Nick Diaz, the state’s top-ranked runner in Class 4A.
Diaz won Saturday’s flrunners.com race in Titusville in which the top 25 teams in the state were invited. Convey finished fourth — second to Diaz among 4A runners — in what has been described as a “breakthrough” performance.
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Kurt set a school record and a personal best with a time of 15 minutes 24 seconds, nine seconds behind Diaz.
“It was very relieving,” Kurt said of his effort, “and it gave me a lot of confidence that I had been lacking for the past year.”
To understand what happened to Kurt during the past 12 months, it’s important to know a little more about his father and his upbringing.
Bill, who was inducted into the Florida Track and Field Hall of Fame last year, won the state title in cross-country in his last three seasons at Ransom Everglades. He also won the mile and two-mile runs his junior and senior years, as well as two other state titles in track and field.
Now an attorney, Bill earned a track scholarship to the University of Virginia, where his career stalled largely because of injuries.
Meanwhile, when Kurt was in elementary school, he saw his dad’s medals at his grandparents’ house and started to realize that Billy was kind of a big deal in the local running world.
Kurt’s older sister, Tori, ran, too.
“She was the No. 1 runner at Coral Gables [High],” said Bill, 48, who still runs with the Coral Reef team on Saturdays. “But she ran for fun, not competition. Kurt is extremely competitive.”
Kurt is so competitive, in fact, that he won’t back down from wanting to beat his dad’s exploits.
The nine state championships, Kurt admits, are probably out of his reach, especially since he doesn’t have any yet, and his dad started his title rampage as a high school sophomore.
But the times? Kurt wants to beat those, especially in track, where the surfaces and distances make comparisons easier.
“That’s my ultimate goal, beating his times,” Kurt said. “The challenge will make me better — even if I don’t succeed.”
Chasing Diaz is a different kind of pursuit.
In middle school, Kurt was the better runner, mostly because he had the advantage of his dad’s coaching and knew exactly how hard he had to work to win.
Even as a sophomore, Kurt won his first two varsity races.
But as Diaz and others got to high school and received improved instruction, Kurt’s advantage disappeared. Toward the end of last season, Kurt admits he “lost the desire” to race.
“I had gotten a stomach virus, and then I had to restart my engine in the middle of the season,” he said. “Then I had some slight injury things, and I lost the desire to race the kids I had beaten [previously] in South Florida.
“Mentally, I got into a negative state. It was a downward spiral of excuse-making that lasted all through track season.”
That’s what made last Saturday so big for Kurt, who improved his time by 45 seconds over his most recent race the week prior.
“It was like 100 pounds had been taken off his back,” Bill said of his son. “He was dancing around, all smiles; It was the first race he had really enjoyed since the start of his sophomore year.”
Coral Reef coach Eric Pino, who ran for Columbus in 1997 when the Explorers won their first state title in cross-country, used the word “giddy” to describe Kurt’s emotions.
“It was exciting to see because after you struggle, you start questioning your training,” Pino said. “But we did some shorter speed work in practice, and it worked.”
Pino, who helped Columbus win three state titles as a cross-country assistant coach, is in his second year at Coral Reef.
He believes that Diaz and Brandon Marquez of Orlando’s Timber Creek are the favorites in the state meet.
“And I would put Kurt in that contest, too,” he said. “If Kurt wins, there will be no shock on my face.”