Ryan Peppenhorst saw the mile record in fifth grade and couldn’t help himself. It was there, so close.
"I was within reach of it at one point," Peppenhorst remembers, "so I thought I might as well practice and try to get it."
That’s the thing about the South Forsyth junior – something within him, some intangible force compels Peppenhorst in simple situations like these.
"Ryan is just so competitive," South head coach Van Munn said. "He’s just got such a drive competition-wise in everything. He just doesn’t want to get beat."
Few could beat Peppenhorst this cross country season. Not at the NGTC Mountain Eagle Invitational, or at Carrollton Last Chance, or where it mattered most to Peppenhorst, where he’d been (again) so close the previous season – the Region 6-AAAAAA championship.
For his body of work this season, Peppenhorst is the 2013 Forsyth County Boys Runner of the Year.
"I had a really good season overall," Peppenhorst said. "Some of the races I didn’t finish quite as well as I would’ve liked, but I was always in the top 5 for most races, and I’d either more up or drop back just a little. I was really happy with how this season went compared to seasons before."
Indeed, the War Eagles’ No. 1 runner showed marked improvement from last season. He placed ninth at the Warpath Invitational after finishing 22nd last season; was second at the Mountain Invitational after placing ninth last year; and was 14th in a new personal-best 15:37.03 at the Asics Invitational after finishing 20th last season.
And then there was region.
Last season, Peppenhorst finished in 17:19.27, just five seconds behind Alpharetta’s Mitchell Narro, while South finished fourth in the team standings.
That was Peppenhorst’s motivation throughout the offseason, through all the extra Sunday runs at Fowlers Park or the soccer games on Saturdays with his United Futbol Academy team.
"This year, I committed myself more so out of just normal practices," Peppenhorst said. "I’d run other times as well. I feel that made all the difference. It gave me extra mileage I needed to help me improve and get better."
He put the extra mileage to good use at region. Peppenhorst finished first in 16:42.92 and helped lead South to a region championship.
"I was so extremely happy," he said. "That’d been what I had been working toward the whole year. Even though state was the next week, region was my overall goal."
Indeed, Peppenhorst struggled at Carrollton the following week. He finished just 64th, second on his own team.
"State’s always been hard on me," Peppenhorst said.
So Peppenhorst has his goal for next season. While he’s keeping up with soccer, participating in four honor societies and two service clubs at South and figuring whether to do sports in college or concentrate on entering the medical field, Peppenhorst knows he has a region title to defend and wants to prove himself at state.
"At that stage, he hasn’t shown what kind of athlete he is," Munn said, "and that’s what we’re kind of shooting for next year."