South Park senior Tyler Rigby defeated all competition to win this year's WPIAL Class AA cross country race, but the story behind the story is one of heartbreak, determination and triumph.
In 2011, Rigby had launched a serious mission to qualify for the PIAA state championship. The year before, he'd placed 69th at the WPIAL Class AAA championship meet with a time of 17:34 at the Cooper's Lake Campground near Slippery Rock.
So Rigby spent his 2011 season kicking up dirt and taking names. He began winning all of his section meets; not an easy feat alongside teams such as Baldwin and Mt. Lebanon (although South Park competed in Class AA at the championship meet, it was in a Class AAA section for the regular season).
Rigby even set two course records in the week of Sept. 18, 2011. The first was at Bishop Canevin, where Rigby ran for a time of 18:06. The second was at the 2011 Big Eight Invitational at Mingo Creek Park where Rigby clocked 18:32.
The cold, rainy day of the 2011 WPIAL championship came and went. Rigby's time at sodden Cooper's Lake was 18:19, and he missed a state championship berth by one place.
"I've had that in the back of my mind in all of my training and all of my races," Rigby said. "I'd set a goal to get to states and do whatever I could to get there."
Somehow, Rigby pulled out even more stops for this season. He ran as many as 42 miles per week training in the summer and broke in a new pair of shoes. But the real innovation came in the form of combining speed intervals with hill workouts.
"The interval workout was formulated between me and my head coach [Jim Levdansky]," said Rigby. "I needed to get some repeats -- some fast speed workouts in. And I needed to work in some hills. [Levdansky] had done Sunny Slopes in the past."
Sunny Slopes is commonly known as the best hill for sledding in South Park, the actual county park, not the township. But in the absence of ice and snow, the hill was an ideal simulation of Cooper's Lake's starting hill -- a daunting hill that climbs to the horizon.
Levdansky took Rigby through 400-meter repeats on Sunny Slopes. Rigby ran 10 at a time to simulate the type of speed he would need to get ahead of the pack at Cooper's Lake. The workout paid off.
Rigby's Class AA race featured other contenders. Rigby cited Beaver's Marshall Bruce and Mars' Scott Slaney as being a couple of Class AA's fastest.
"[Slaney] has always been a fast runner," said Rigby. "I've run against him for years."
Slaney finished sixth last week with a time of 17:24 for Mars' second place team.
As a senior, Rigby plans to run college cross country, track, or both. Penn State's Behrend branch and Valparaiso University in Indiana are among the programs that have captured Rigby's interest. But Rigby's biggest interest right now is in the PIAA Cross Country Championship meet, where he will compete on Saturday in Hershey.