Take a trip to Bellis Fair mall with Bellingham senior Paris Speidel, especially at times when high school kids would be there, and it's unlikely you'll walk away without seeing somebody he knows.
That's what happens when you've attended three high schools in the county and been an active student athlete as long as he has.
Speidel grew up in the Meridian School District and was a Trojan through his freshman year. He ran cross country at Meridian High in the fall and played on the boys' soccer team in the spring. But he said family problems forced him to move to Lynden after his freshman year.
"I went there my whole life, so it was kind of weird moving out," Speidel said in a phone interview. "Meridian was a lot smaller and different because it was a smaller. I went from a school of a couple hundred to one where there was almost 1,000. It was kind of like a small fish in a bigger pond."
Speidel started to find his place as a Lion, running cross country in the fall of his sophomore year. But in February of that year, he ended up moving to Bellingham to live with his aunt, rather than with a friend's parents in Lynden.
He played soccer for the Red Raiders that spring and again went out for cross country in the fall of his junior year.
"I didn't get to know Paris until he came out for cross country his junior year," Bellingham track and cross country coach Bill McClement said in a phone interview. "All I knew about him is the guys on our team said that there was a young man in school that can run and run cross country and they were trying to get him to come out."
Those same friends eventually ended up talking Speidel into giving up soccer last spring so that he could come out for the track team.
Speidel's first year on the track not only ended with him qualifying for state in one of track's most difficult doubles, but he also opened some eyes by placing fourth in the 800 meters at the Class 2A State Championships with a time of 1 minute, 55.55 seconds.
"That was his first year," McClement said. "I don't think anyone expected that he would have the kind of season he ended up with."
In the process, Speidel has found a new home, not just with the track team, but at Bellingham.
"I like that a lot of the people at Bellingham will push you and help you," Speidel said. "I think it's a really good school. The teachers are open to everything and answer all the questions I have. They try to keep everybody involved, and it's a real good student body."
McClement said Speidel has quickly become well respected by the Bellingham High teaching staff, as well.
He's also, obviously, making a name for himself on the track.
"As a junior, he narrowly missed making it to state in cross country," McClement said. "He finished 17th, and only the top 15 go, and I know that was really frustrating for him. At the same time, he established some stability here in Bellingham, and things both academically and athletically began to develop for him. I would say he has an excellent work ethic. He makes very responsible choices as to his own study habits and athletic life."
Getting used to life as a track athlete took a little bit of time to adjust to, though, as Speidel said he had always played team sports growing up.
"Even cross country, you're competing as a team," Speidel said. "In track you're running for yourself. When you're running, you don't have teammates out there to help you. It's all about yourself. You need to think about what you need to do. It's harder, but I eventually found that it was kind of nice."
Though Speidel only had himself to rely on, he certainly didn't cut himself any breaks.
Last year, he not only qualified for state in the 800, but also in the 400 - a double most high school runners don't even attempt.
"It's hard, because both events are fast," Speidel said. "The 800 is a strategic sprint, and the 400 is a sprint. The thing that makes it so hard is you go in the 400 and then you only have one race in between before you run the 800. Your break is however long it takes them to set up for the 300 hurdles and run the race and take the hurdles down. That's all you've got."
With so little time in between two demanding runs, Speidel and McClement had to come up with a plan to help him perform well in both events.
"I had to warm down, change out of my 400 racing stuff and change into my 800 racing stuff," Speidel said. "You need to keep jogging around so you don't get tight. I just tried to stay loose. ... I think it's one of the toughest double-doubles out there. The main thing is lack of rest. You have to be strong enough to do them both."
As evidenced by what Speidel did last year when he qualifyed for the state meet, he is plenty strong enough.
Though he didn't end up qualifying for the state final in the 400 - he was 13th fastest in the preliminaries with a time of 52.52 seconds - he was the only 2A boy to make it to Tacoma in both events.
Speidel and McClement aren't sure if he'll attempt to repeat the double this spring, but it wasn't until shortly before the sub-district meet that they decided to make a run for it last year.
"We'll see how everything plays out this year," Speidel said. "I know I want to continue running the 800, and we might try running the 4x4 (4x400 relay) for a while. We'll see how it goes."
McClement said Speidel is even capable of running a strong 1,600.
But that shouldn't be surprising after the strong season he had with the cross country team last fall.
Speidel ended up helping his team make it to state and finish second, as he placed 53rd in 17:00.3.
"It helped give me a lot of confidence," Speidel said. "To finish second in state is pretty good. I feel like I'm better on the track. I'm better at speed work. I can do longer distances, but the speed stuff is what excites me."
It's something he hopes he gets to continue doing at college, as he said, "I'm keeping my options open."
But that's to be expected for an athlete that has only one year of track experience under his belt.
"I've only had that one year to show what I can do," said Speidel, who hopes to major in business. "They don't have much to look at, yet. But if I can run well for a second year, it should help."
Speidel certainly has all the tools to do just that.
Not only does he have the physical skills to be a good runner, McClement said he's got the ability to get better because he is so coachable.
"He listens very carefully and applies what we talk about," McClement said. "With that kind of mindset and the continuity of his work ethic, he really brought himself along. ... He's exactly what you want in a student athlete."
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.