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Rider running down a dream

Senior sprinter seeking strong finish to his North Medford track career

As the snow fell in late December and early January, Nathan Rider wasn’t only thinking of warmer days ahead.

That’s because, for Rider, it involved the chance to do something the senior had yet to do in his entire high school career: Run a regular track season.

“It kept me disciplined, that’s for sure,” said the 17-year-old Rider, who attends Logos Public Charter School and runs track at North Medford High. “To eat right, to try my best every single practice and prepare myself for the big meet, a state meet, it’s awesome. I’m glad to be able to go on the journey leading up to it.”

He’s gotten that chance this spring, and has most definitely taken full advantage of it all.

Rider has, undoubtedly, saved his best for his last high school track season and made the leap to being one of the top sprinters in the state of Oregon this year. Entering this week’s Southwest Conference district meet, which gets underway today at South Eugene High School and continues Saturday, Rider has seized the opportunity and provided plenty of highlights along the way.

Rider’s time of 10.69 seconds in the 100-meter dash posted on the second day of the Medford Rotary Relays in early April is tops in the state.

On top of that, Rider is second to South Medford junior Andrew Walker in the 200 with a time of 21.57. The Sacramento State-bound Rider is also ranked sixth in the state in the 400 at 49.82.

“I’m just excited to compete,” said Rider with a healthy grin. “I’ve got a lot of competition this year and the blessing of going against Andrew Walker. I haven’t been feeling great the last couple of weeks, but I’m all well now and can be at my tip-top shape while (Walker’s) competing at his tip-top shape, too. It’s going to be really interesting and I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to compete.”

Essentially, you name the sprinting event and Rider has proven he’s got the legs for it.

“He’s a kid you can move up and you can probably put him in an 800 and he’d be successful,” quipped North Medford coach Piet Voskes. “He’s got a motor on him but he’s got such a competitive drive and he loves the opportunity to compete, and it doesn’t matter what event it is.

“It shows his versatility, it shows his wherewithal to be successful in whatever event he’s placed in,” continued Voskes. “I think it just shows his eternal drive to finish off his senior year the way he thinks he’s capable of doing.”

It’s been a season in which Rider has improved in just about every aspect of his running, and the times show it.

Case in point: During his junior campaign last spring, one where he won the Southern Oregon Conference title in the 200, Rider didn’t finish with a time under 11 seconds in the 100. In each one of his five runs of the 100 this season, he has been under 11 seconds.

“It was a year of lifting, intelligent lifting, and he didn’t miss a workout from December on,” said Voskes. “That commitment to excellence, that’s who he is, but he made the investment in himself over the last year. He knew that was the difference between being a good sprinter and a great sprinter. He wanted to make sure he would be able to compete beyond high school, so he needed to make sure teams recognized his ability, and that only happened by doing workouts outside of the season.”

Rider will be one of the busiest runners at the SWC meet this weekend, and is running in all three of the distances in which he is so highly ranked in the state as well as being a part of North’s 4x400 relay team. He doesn’t hide visions of making the state meet in multiple events and making it another busy weekend for him at Hayward Field in Eugene.

“I’m really excited for the opportunity to go to districts,” began Rider, “then go to state, be at Hayward twice, the nicest facility in the world … it’s just awesome being able to compete that much in one season.”

The catch in all of this is that with Rider being in the Class of 2022, things have been far from normal over the previous three years.

After seeing his freshman season in 2019 end early thanks to a hamstring injury, Rider’s sophomore season never started thanks to the early months of the pandemic. Then, his junior year was boiled down to a modified spring season with just regional opposition.

“Really, all he’s had is a six-week high school track season last year,” said Voskes. “This is a young man who also runs cross-country because he believes it makes him tougher. How many high school sprinters do that and don’t back down from a workout in the fall to a point where we have to remind him that he’s a sprinter.”

To those who know Rider, seeing one of the state’s top sprinters suddenly shift into a cross-country runner might not be a surprise.

He is a teenager who enjoys the battle that comes with a new challenge or a difficult task.

Similar to why he says running the 400 has become his favorite race, cross-country gave him the chance to push himself beyond his comfort zone.

And it’s been a case of the workouts in the cold of winter setting the foundation for a special spring.

“The grind never stops,” said Rider. “Training here (at Bowerman Field) every day has been normal for me since the summer. I did cross-country training, then cross-country and then winter training — it’s never stopped.”

Rider points to former North sprinter Tyren Wolfe as somebody he has always tried to emulate — in terms of individual success as well as the ability to be so good at multiple events.

Wolfe, who graduated from North in 2016, was the first sprinter south of Eugene in 30 years to win a state title in the 100 when he won in 2015.

“It’s been my goal to break his records since freshman year,” said Rider. “He’s Tyren Wolfe, he’s the school record holder, I should set out to beat his records. That’s been a real motivation for me, and now that I’m actually close to it I think I can actually do this and it gives me more motivation to try harder in practices and give it my all.”

To win a state title next week, it will take besting Walker, who is enjoying a special season of his own, and a strong field of sprinters.

The Rider-Walker rivalry is a friendly one, said Voskes: “They’re both class acts, they high-five each other, they talk after races — it’s refreshing the way they go about their business.”

It’s North vs. South, sure. But it’s also a couple of 17-year-olds running in the same races and pushing one another to be better. Rider is the first one to tell you that he wants that challenge from Walker whenever they step into the starting blocks for a race.

He also wants to beat Walker because that’s just the nature of competition, but having another one of the top sprinters in the state just be on the other side of town is something Rider definitely understands is unique.

“It’s awesome and I look at that and it’s like, ‘What are the chances of this?’” said Rider. “He’s a cool guy. He always brings his A-game and I love it. That’s somebody to compete with. I just love the opportunity to have somebody who’s my caliber to be competing with and is there to push myself to be the best I can be in my races.”

To even have the chance to finish his season on that kind of note is something that Rider is totally embracing.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s super exciting because this is what the work has been put forth for,” said Voskes. “To know that a young man was out there practicing with snowflakes falling in January and then again in May, here he is trying to accomplish his dreams and his goals.

“That’s so cool to see Nathan put a capstone on his high school career, and that’s what the next two weeks are. They’re his capstone, his final exam, and no one prepares better for that than he does.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneNorth Medford's Nathan Rider puts on his spikes at the Bowerman Field track on Wednesday afternoon.