Karthik Kochuparambil is a master of adaptation.
Eight years ago, he and his family moved to the United States from India, and it didn’t take long for him fit right in and start making friends in his new home. One thing he brought from India was his love for running: He was into short-distance races, mostly in the 100-meter dash, drawn by the adrenaline rush of the short burst of speed.
When he moved to Forsyth County as a middle schooler, though, that path started to shift. Then-Piney Grove Middle School track and field coach Robert Oswald saw potential in him as a distance runner, and soon, he was running the 800-meter event. But when he subsequently began to try his hand at cross country that year, his knack for adapting was put to the test.
“I remember at the first practice, I just went all out,” Kochuparambil said. “We were supposed to do four miles and the first time, I went and burned myself out. I was like, ‘We're done, right?’, and the coaches were like, ‘No, buddy, we've got three more.’”
Now a junior at Denmark a few years after that rude awakening, Kochuparambil has morphed into one of the county’s faster distance runners, but the Danes feel like he’s only scratched the surface of what he’s capable of. Almost a year after finishing in the top 10 at the Class 4A state meet last November, Kochuparambil is looking to push himself further than where pure talent alone can take him.
“He just glides when he runs,” Denmark cross country coach Ty Brown said. “I don't know if he realizes how good he is, but you watch the way he runs compared to other runners and it's just smooth, almost effortless. He's also very laid back – he's not over the top, he's not one of those kids who stresses about his training or his performance, but he's very competitive. Once he gets into a race, he's focused on the finish line and trying to beat the guys around him.”
Sometimes, that laid-back nature can be a detriment. Kochuparambil feels like he could have done more summer running than he actually did before this season, for example. But in the midst of an actual race, his mind is always focused on pushing further and further.
The first time he felt that type of competitive fire was during the middle school state meet at Piney Grove. His friends’ dad was the coach of another team also running in the event, and he told Kochuparambil not to try pacing with his best runner, warning that he might get worn out.
“That really got in my head that day,” Kochuparambil said. “I went out there and pushed myself to the limit and beat the best guy out there. I made it into the top 10 – that guy was right next to me. It was the first reason why I pushed myself so much.”
He continued running cross country in his freshman year at South Forsyth, and he enjoyed his time there, helping the War Eagles win third place at state that year with a group that he’d become really close with.
But just when he was gearing up for his second season with South, he found out that he’d have to leave for Denmark, and he didn’t take the news well.
“I didn't want to run cross country here at all,” Kochuparambil said. “I just didn't know anyone. I was just so mad that I had to move here. I was super frustrated.”
But he wasn’t going to just quit. He continued to run at Denmark, but initially, the results reflected his lack of enthusiasm. At his first race with his new school, he posted his worst time ever at around 19 minutes.
But as the year went on, he began to warm up to his new teammates, particularly then-freshman Ethan Ashley, another one of Denmark’s best runners. Despite his youth, he knows how to push Kochuparambil, as he’s done when the stakes are the highest.
“He was the reason I actually placed (top 10) at state last year,” Kochuparambil said. “He was in front of me for the first lap and the second lap comes and he turns around and he's like, ‘Karthik, where are you?’ I'm like, ‘What? You're screaming at me at a state race, you understand that, right?’”
Kochuparambil placed 10th in the Class 4A state race in Carrollton and third in Region 7-4A, and in track, he placed second in the 800- and 1600-meter runs at the state meet. He sees himself as a better track athlete, but enjoys cross country more for its more social nature. Now fully invested as a Denmark runner, he and his school are excited to see what heights he can reach.
“I don't think any of us really knows how fast he could go,” Brown said. “He can probably have a phenomenal 5K time that wouldn't just be impressive in our area, but in the state and in the southeast.“A lot of that's just up to him. It's what kind of training he's willing to do. He has so much raw talent.”