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The Student News Site of Athens Academy

The Spartan Review

The Student News Site of Athens Academy

The Spartan Review

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OYSP, The Place to Be
April 25, 2024

Alumni Spotlight: Speedy Spartan is a National Champ!

L to R - Ryan Iyer; Simon Sikes; Alex Branch; Mary Catherine Smith (Grahams mom); Coach Anderson, and Jay Bangle cheer on Graham Blanks 

Photo Credit: Geoffrey Walton
L to R – Ryan Iyer; Simon Sikes; Alex Branch; Mary Catherine Smith (Graham’s mom); Coach Anderson, and Jay Bangle cheer on Graham Blanks Photo Credit: Geoffrey Walton

On Saturday November 18, 2023, Athens Academy Alum Graham Blanks made history on the cross country course in Charlottesville, VA.  Running for Harvard University, Blanks finished first place in the NCAA National Championship. He ran the 10k course with a time of 28.37. 


For those who aren’t runners or don’t care to do math, that means Blanks ran 6.2 miles at a 4:40 per mile pace. That’s a speedy spartan! Coach Geoffrey Walton, watching from afar, stated “It was thrilling to watch Graham as he raced and won the NCAA Championship!  Graham has always been a gifted runner. He has that ability to make it look effortless.”  


Coach Neville Anderson, who traveled to Charlottesville for the big race, said, “As a coach, I was swelled with pride, and a huge satisfaction that a goal we discussed in high school was accomplished.” With this historic win, Blanks became the first Ivy League athlete to hold this prestigious title. Even more impressive, he ran an undefeated 2023 season at Harvard, placing first in all five collegiate races. l


Over the break, I had the chance to talk to Blanks and his Athens Academy coaches. Here are a few questions and their responses:


Question: In what ways did Athens Academy prepare Blanks for all of his successes? 


Blanks: “The cross-country coaches at Athens Academy, Coach Anderson & Coach Walton, prepared me well for collegiate competition. They taught me how to race and helped me become more committed to training (trust me, that was not an easy job). More specifically, we did lots of hill training in high school, which I believe I was able to apply at the NCAA championships this year in Charlottesville — one of the hilliest courses I’ve run on while in college. Academically, Athens Academy prepared me well for time management in college, and I also had many teachers throughout the years that taught me to be intellectually curious.”


L to R – Ryan Iyer, Alex Branch: Graham Blanks finish a race together in 2017 Credit: Geoffrey Walton

Walton: “Even though hard training and incredible coaching have gone into Graham’s successes at Harvard, Coach Anderson and I feel a strong sense of pride that Athens Academy did a lot to set him up for success.  He was prepared academically for the rigors of Harvard, he had a solid training foundation for running, and he understood the mental side of training and racing.  Graham is the first person from the State of Georgia to win an NCAA Cross Country Championship, and it is amazing that we can say he is a product of Athens Academy!”


Anderson: “Graham’s win is not just great for Athens Academy but for the state of Georgia. The fact that he originated from one of the smaller schools in the state also is validation that you can come from a small place and fight big. His victory is a validation of our approach to training here at Athens Academy.”


Question: What was Blanks’s plan for the race, and how did he adapt to win? Is it better to run with your head or your heart?


Blanks: “I think my current college coach answers this question best: run the first half with your head and the second half with your heart. This is what he told us before the NCAA championship this year.”


Walton: “[Blanks] has a plan….he has a strategy for each race, but he also understands that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Those are the races Graham credits to helping him become a strong racer. Eventually, it was just him and one other runner left racing at the front of the pack.  Graham was confident in his final kick and was able to sprint to the finish line first.  Afterwards, he laughed that he did not run a smart race and did not stick to his strategy…….but he was determined to finish first!”


Adding to the impressive list, Blanks was recently named the NCAA National Runner of the Year. Blanks’s record is truly astonishing, and there’s no doubt he’ll keep running up the charts. But what’s it going to take? Work ethic, training, and a positive attitude. As for training, Blanks shares that he runs “over 100 miles a week” and spends “upwards of 20 hours a week on training.” 


Regarding positive attitude, Walton comments on Blanks’s character and says, “What has always separated him from other talented runners was his positive mindset. You can see that when you watch his interviews. The other part of Graham is that he loves being a part of a team. At Harvard he was voted a captain by his teammates, largely because he has the ability to work hard when he needs to, but also have fun and relax when he needs to do that.”


Blanks accomplished something extraordinary. His unprecedented success has inspired his teammates at Harvard, his fellow cross country runners across the nation, and, of course, all of us back here at home on Spartan Lane. Congratulations! 

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About the Contributor
Avery Roark
Avery Roark, Editor-in-Chief
Avery is a junior at Athens Academy. She plays tennis, flag football and runs Cross Country. Avery enjoys spending time with friends and family, and she's looking forward to another great year with the Spartan Review!

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