BLUEFIELD, Va. — The last day of summer lived up to its reputation on Wednesday.

A sunny afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s provided a test for minds and muscles at the annual Graham Invitational Cross Country meet.

A couple of local middle school boys were among those ready to pass the test – and to pass anyone else between them and the finish line.

Tyler Huffman of PikeView Middle and Wyatt Kirkpatrick of Graham Middle finished first and second, respectively, in the middle school field that included both boys and girls.

Overall, the meet drew 20 teams, largest in the history of the invitational, according to Graham coach Al McNaughton.

Huffman and Kirkpatrick both traversed the course on the Graham Middle School campus in under 12 minutes, separated from each other by 26 seconds at the end. Huffman, a Princeton resident, clocked in at 11:16.

“I’m not the best in the heat. I definitely felt it at the end,” Huffman said after a few minutes of cooling down. “We had two loops, and I was planning to pick it up on the second loop. But during the first loop, I felt pretty good and I picked it up then.”

“It’s definitely one of the hardest courses,” he said. Then he talked about “the big hill” near the football practice field, describing a tilt to it in addition to the straight-ahead climb.

“That just about killed you,” Huffman said.

He said about his mental attitude about running, “I read this book. It said, truly, you’ve got to master your mind. I just pushed through it.”

After some prompting, Huffman said he’s won first place in four out of five of his most recent races.

“I started (running) when I was 10 years old,” said Huffman, now in the eighth grade. “I got hooked. … I realized I was good at it – and that’s my thing.”

Kirkpatrick, a member of the seventh grade at Graham, said that Wednesday’s meet was “a big race.” He didn’t let the heat, or the volume of runners around him affect his pace, though.

“You just have to zone it out, and keep running,” he said.

The third fastest boy in the middle school race, Chase Cumbow, also attends Graham.

The top time among the girls was Emma Faulkner of Scott Memorial Middle School in Wythe County, with a time of 12:28.

The top boys teams in the middle school division were PikeView, Graham and Princeton. Among the girls, PikeView was second behind George Wythe, and Princeton was fourth.

Kaleigh Temple, a senior at George Wythe High School, claimed the varsity girls division with a time of 22:02.

“It was tiring, but in the end I pushed as hard as I could, and I’m proud of the time I got,” she said. She said being first on her team was “really shocking, honestly.”

She said that when she took the lead, “I was scared. I was scared someone was going to come up right behind me and I was going to have to go even faster than I thought I could.”

“I was thinking, this is my last time being here. This’ll be my last time being with my friends and running with them, so I’ve just got to push as hard as I can.”

Her twin sister Kara finished eighth in the girls meet, helping George Wythe to the top spot in the final team standings. Princeton finished third, and Richlands was eighth.

Princeton sophomore Asia Collins and her sister Hayley, a senior, finished third and seventh in the individual results.

Hayley Collins said, “I was a little nervous, because we had a soccer game last night, and I was pretty tired. But we pushed through. … You just set your mind to it, and you can do it.”

Asia Collins performs in track, soccer and girls basketball. She said, “I haven’t run in awhile (but) I just believe in myself,” she said. “And hydrate.”

She added, “We have a lot of fast people, and they push me to do better, honestly.”

Dorian Almer, a junior at Union High, literally ran away with the boys varsity race, winning by 42 seconds.

Coming off “the big hill,” he held a lead of approximately 35 yards. Another Union High runner, Chad Douglas, cut the gap to about 15 yards with 400 yards to go, but wound up in second place.

Almer said about maintaining his large lead, “I just had to put that out of my mind and keep pushing – pretend like there was someone up there ahead of me that I had to catch.”

A resident of Big Stone Gap, Almer noted that in Wednesday’s race, “There were some talented guys up there.”

Comparing the Graham layout to the “four or five” races he’s already competed in during the fall season, he said, “I’d say this is a harder course, because of the hills and the gravel.”

A racer “since I was 10 or 11,” Almer said his secret to staying on top of his game is “just working hard, and eating right.”

Princeton was sixth and Bland County was eighth among the top 10 boys teams. Bland County sophomore Tyler Boone cracked the top 10 individuals, nine seconds ahead of Princeton’s Brady McCabe. Jacob White of Graham was close behind.

During the varsity girls race, a Tazewell County Emergency Medical Services ambulance was dispatched to the edge of the course to deal with a medical issue. No details were immediately available.

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