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THE GRIND: Forsyth Central's Gizelbach takes over as standard-bearer of boys cross country team
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Its definitely harder not having the seniors to run with. Its just me going at it, Forsyth Central sophomore Calan Gizelbach said. - photo by Paul Dybas

THE GRIND: Forsyth Central XC Runner Calan Gizelbach

Shot by Paul Dybas Edited by Paul Dybas

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Four summers ago, Calan Gizelbach joined his brother, Cole, then a sophomore on the Forsyth Central boys cross country team, for a summer practice. The weather was hot that morning, and the workout was grueling to Calan, who was going into seventh grade. The Bulldogs did a two-hour abdominal workout, then ran on the Big Creek Greenway.

“I went home,” Calan said, “and I was sore the rest of the week.”

But Calan returned for the next summer practice. And the next. Central head coach Shannon Hays, then in her first season with the Bulldogs, started calling him, “Mini Max,” after Max Warner, Central’s top runner at the time.

Hays no longer calls Calan ‘Mini Max,’ for the Bulldogs sophomore has grown into a formidable runner of his own. Gizelbach finished fifth out of 154 runners in 16 minutes 39 seconds in his first race of the season two weeks ago at the Bob Blastow Early Bird. Central finished third as a team.

It was a good sign for the Bulldogs, who transformed these past four years into one of the state’s best boys cross country programs. With a tight pack of runners in Warner, Will Hasse, Wesley Bacastow and Calan’s brother, the Bulldogs won a region championship and finished runner-up at the Class 5A state meet last season.

But Central finds itself hitting the reset button this season. Warner, Hasse, Bacastow and Cole Gizelbach graduated, leaving Calan as the Bulldogs’ lone runner returning with significant varsity experience with the team now in the state’s highest classification and in one of the most competitive regions.

“We know we have to work harder than ever before,” Calan said.

Calan had easy motivation to work the past few seasons. He was always chasing the pack, chasing Warner and Hasse and Bacastow and his brother. They were good, but Calan also noticed they had fun doing it.

“When I met those guys, they were so much fun,” Calan said. “They had a blast. Every run they went on it was laughter, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. So every run I killed myself just to stay in that group and be in there.”

The summer before last season, as Calan was entering Central as a freshman, he knew the Bulldogs had enticing ambitions. With virtually an all-senior lineup, Central expected to be among the handful of teams capable of winning a state championship.

So Calan gave up playing travel soccer that summer to focus on running. He wanted to be with the team at the state meet, wanted to help them try to capture a trophy. He ended up running in eight varsity races, averaging 17:23 with three top 20 finishes and one top 10. At state, he finished 25th overall to come in third on the team, ahead of his brother.

Calan’s motivation this season has been less tangible. The pack is behind him now, a new one of emerging runners Roy Harkins, Cooper Meitz, Nice Seaton, Eli Smith and others. They are chasing him.

Calan is chasing whatever potential he sees in himself. He’d like to break Austin Campbell’s school record of 16:15 and run in college. He’d like the Bulldogs to qualify for the state meet out of Region 5-7A.

Even more, he’d like to carry on the standard of Central running he first saw as a seventh grader tagging along for a varsity summer practice.

“It’s definitely harder not having the seniors to run with,” Calan said. “It’s just me going at it, but it’s also fun because I get to kind of run away from those guys. As much as I want them to catch up to me, I don’t want them to catch up to me. I’m trying to separate myself from them, and they’re trying to catch up to me. It’s kind of my new way of motivating myself.”