At this point, Bellingham senior Joe Charbonneau would settle for any memories from the Class 2A State Cross Country Championships - let alone any good memories.
As a sophomore, in his first varsity season of running cross country for the Red Raiders, Charbonneau "surprised" himself and made Bellingham's team for state. But shortly before the start of the race, he bumped his head on a stairwell, and he says he remembers "very little about the trip," when he finished 81st overall with a time of 17 minutes, 12.1 seconds.
Then last year, Charbonneau said he felt a tendon on the top of his foot pop during the Sunfair Invitational in Yakima, and that eventually led to a hip injury. Rather than resting the injuries, Charbonneau pushed through at the Northwest Conference meet.
But a week later he "tanked it" at the 2A Northwest District Meet, finishing 35th. When Bellingham was the odd team left out with a fourth-place finish, Charbonneau didn't get to run at state.
"That was really tough," Charbonneau said in a phone interview. "I was the No. 1 for more than half the season. ... It was one of my athletic lows of all time. It really motivated me to train smart and have a better track season. It helped me as a runner and as an individual."
Charbonneau certainly turned in a strong track season last spring, as he competed at state in the 1,600 meters (10th), 3,200 meters (12th) and as part of Bellingham's 4x400 relay team (13th).
And after a strong offseason, he's in prime position to turn in a memorable performance at the state cross country meet on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
"He has got a lot of talent," Bellingham coach Bill McClement said in a phone interview. "What I think has helped Joe is he has really bought into being a runner. In this district, at this level, I think it's pretty hard to be successful and be a part-time runner. You have to be dedicated year-round."
Charbonneau certainly has shown what that level of commitment can do for him this fall.
Not only did he finish ninth on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the 2A Northwest District Meet in Arlington, helping the Red Raiders qualify for state as a team, he placed fifth in a loaded boys' field at the Northwest Conference Championships a week earlier. His time of 15:45.86 stands as the fifth-fastest 2A mark in the state so far this year.
That means he's a contender with the likes of fellow seniors Conner Johnsen and Reed Henderson from Sehome and defending state champion Patrick Gibson from Squalicum.
That's saying quite a bit for an athlete that basically had to be forced into running just over three years ago.
In middle school, Charbonneau focused on playing football and basketball, but he became too small for football heading into his freshman year.
"Coach McClement called me repeatedly throughout the summer trying to get me to come out for cross country," Charbonneau said. "I started to ignore his calls, so he just called my mom, and my mom talked to me into coming out and trying it for a few practices."
He ran in three races as a freshman, finishing 40th in the JV race at the NWC Championships.
"It wasn't until the spring and summer of his sophomore year that he really saw he could do some things with this if he just got dedicated to the sport," McClement said. "And then he had to learn what that meant to be a runner. Since then, he has made a steady progression - not without its ups and downs."
Suddenly this fall, a guy who was looking up at Gibson, Johnsen, Henderson, Blaine's Tom Bradley, Mount Baker's Dillon Quintana and Ferndale's Jungkuntz twins found himself racing up front with those guys and sometimes even beating them.
"It's definitely been a transition for me this year," Charbonneau said. "Before, I'd just try to hang on with those guys as long as I could, and then they'd end up smoking me. This year, I figure as long as I stay with them the first two miles, I feel like I can take out most other guys."
The biggest reason for his growth in the sport, Charbonneau said, is a growth in his confidence.
McClement credits that confidence to Charbonneau's foundation of year-round work and dedication to the sport.
"I'm not doing any spectacular training or anything like that," Charbonneau said. "I think when you look at those other guys, we're all about at the same fitness level now. From there it all goes back to confidence. It's all about the state of mind to try to power through anything - having that mentality that you don't want anybody or anything to beat you. I credit the other guys in the conference and the district for having that confidence. We all have that same mentality and confidence now."
As Charbonneau has grown as a runner, he's also developed as a leader for the Red Raiders.
He said he learned a lot from running with and watching graduated senior Terry McClement - "the best leader anyone could have," Charbonneau said - last year, and has tried to pass along a lot of the information he learned.
After edging him by one spot at the finish line on Saturday, junior teammate Brian Chmelik was quick to credit Charbonneau for all the help he gave him throughout the season.
"I think Joe's definitely had an impact on Brian Chmelik and Paris Speidel and Simon Maguire and those guys," McClement said. "I think he's shown them that they too have unlimited potential and to not put any caps on what is possible."
Charbonneau, who said he would like to continue running in college next year if the opportunity presents itself, now hopes it's possible to have an unforgettable race in Pasco.
"It's nice to be considered a threat this year," Charbonneau said. "When you look back at how far I've come these last few years, it means a lot to me."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
STATE CROSS COUNTRY
When: Saturday, Nov. 3
Site: Sun Willows Golf Course, Pasco
Class 1A girls: 10:30 a.m.
Class 2A girls: 11 a.m.
Class 1A boys: Noon
Class 2A boys: 1:30 p.m.
Class 3A boys: 2 p.m.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.