When Jim Thorpe's Jonathan Condly begins a three-mile cross country race, he can "see" the finish line.
More times than not, his legs catch up to his mental vision of breaking the tape as he leaves every other runner behind him.
That is why Jonathan Condly is the 2013 TIMES NEWS Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
This accomplishment is even more impressive considering that Condly nearly decided to play soccer for the Olympians rather than become a member of the cross country team.
"I liked soccer, but when I was in seventh grade I saw that my sister, Cat, was running cross country so she was definitely an influence upon me," said Condly. "Many of my friends were going to run for the team too and I thought I could do better running than playing soccer."
Condly, now a junior, did not raise any eyebrows as a freshman for Jim Thorpe's coach Drew Benyo.
"Although he brought a great attitude with him, he simply lacked experience," says Benyo. "It took awhile, but Jonathan really began to display his talent as a sophomore and started to become a special runner. He wasn't overwhelmed by older, more experienced runners. He had a good season and then finished sixth in the Schuylkill League Championships."
As this season approached, Benyo , who has coached Jim Thorpe cross country for 26 years, was so confident in Condly and the rest of his team, he told the student body in an assembly that these runners would be the first team in school history to qualify for the States.
And he was right.
Led by Condly, who won every league race except for two, the Olympians finished the regular season undefeated. Then, after winning the postseason Schuylkill League championship and placing second at Districts, Thorpe finished 12th out of 212 Class AA high schools in Pennsylvania at the States.
According to Condly, his success this season was due to his dedication to a summer running program as prescribed by Benyo. This involved daily speed work in the form of short sprints, developmental endurance training runs that progress from two miles to 11 miles, and hill excursions.
"Jonathan's commitment to training has had a significant impact on his success this season," says Benyo. "And now that he believes in his abilities, he runs to win, not just to place and the results speak for themselves."
Condly won this year's Schuylkill League championships and then he placed third against 140 competitors in the Districts.
Benyo describes Condly's running style similar to that of a race horse that has a great kick down the stretch. He paces himself in the pack in the first mile; he settles into a smaller group of five or six leaders in the second mile; and then he accelerates in the third mile to pass any runner before him.
"No matter what kind of day he has had before a race, Jonathan always gives 100 percent effort. He carries a 'nobody can beat me' attitude. He leaves it all out on the course."
"When I begin a run, my mind is already at the finish line." Says Condly. "I think about how great it's going to feel when I win."
Although he is rarely challenged at the end of a race, it did happen in the Northhampton Invitational. Condly bolted from 10th place to catch the leader. As they both approached the finish, they came upon a small tree in the middle of the course. Jonathan swerved to the left, "the longer route to the tape," explains Benyo, as the other runner steered right. It was a "photo finish, but Condly was declared the winner by the proverbial "nose."
Perhaps his most disappointing and yet also rewarding run was at this year's States. Condly finished 26th out of 272 participants, one second behind 25th place, which would have rewarded him with a medal.
"I saw an immediate sense of disappointment," says Benyo, " but I was so proud of Jonathan again because I knew he had left everything he had on that course."
"At first I was upset," says Condly, "but then I realized how I had finished above so many runners and it felt awesome to just compete against the best in the state."
Complacency is not a word in Condly's vocabulary book. He will compete once again for Jim Thorpe's track team this spring where last season he set the all-time school record in the 3200 meter race. Then he intends to train even more rigorously this summer, according to Benyo's advanced program.
"My goal is to become a two-time league champion and do better in the Districts and the States," he says.
Two eyes on the finish line.
Two-time league champion?
Two-time TIMES NEWS Cross Country Athleter of the Year will be a distinct possibility for Jonathan Condly in 2014.