SARASOTA — Zack Summerall refuses to be like anyone else.
Even if that means opting for a bright-orange pair of running shoes, so as not to be associated with the competition.
But, when your older brother is a former Sarasota school record holder and you’re running neck and neck with the No. 2 ranked runner in the state of Florida week in and week out, odds are you’re going to be categorized one way or another.
It’s something the Sarasota High junior has learned to take in stride.
After all, it’s something Summerall has been dealing with since well before he even set foot on the campus of Sarasota High.
Summerall began running in seventh grade at the urging of his older brother, Andrew Mendoza, who was Sarasota’s No. 1 runner at the time.
At first, Summerall didn’t think he would like the sport because of the long distance, but, before long, he realized he was pretty good at it.
By his freshman year, Summerall was immersed in the sport and started paving his own path at Sarasota. Although the process wasn’t nearly as easy as Summerall would’ve liked.
“Coming in was harder because they expected me to be as fast as my brother,” Summerall says. “All the pressure was on me, so coming into it I was nervous at first.”
Summerall spent his freshman season adjusting to racing a competitive level and slowly began shaving seconds off his time.
The following year, Summerall, who also runs track for the Sailors, broke his brother’s school record in the mile by one second and was one second away from breaking the school record in the 800.
On Sept. 21, Summerall dropped another 20 seconds off his 5K personal best time, crossing the finish line in 15 minutes, 32.9 seconds, to finish second at the North Port XC Invitational.
Summerall finished eight seconds behind Fort Myers’ Tyler Bennett, the No. 2 ranked runner in the state, and four seconds off the school record.
“It’s always really good competition when I race Tyler Bennett,” Summerall says. “It was a little closer this time.”
Summerall has dropped nearly 90 seconds off his time at this point a season ago and is on pace to break the school record of 15:28, which was set in 2008.
“It would mean a lot,” Summerall says. “It’d be nice to get the school record and set something new.”
Summerall won a regional cross-country title last season and finished 14th at the Class 3A Cross Country Finals, helping lead Sarasota to a fourth-place finish. This season, Summerall is poised to defend his regional title and finish in the top two in the state.
Summerall has won two races so far this season and finished second in two more, helping lead the Sailors to first-place finishes at the Lemon Bay Invitational (Aug. 31), Fort Myers Optimist Invitational (Sept. 7) and Bradenton Runners Club Invitational (Sept. 14).
The Sailors are currently ranked No. 1 in their district and No. 2 in their region.
“I enjoy the team bond of cross-country,” Summerall says. “It’s more of a family sport. You win as a team and you can celebrate as a team. It’s like a second family.”
Following this season, Summerall hopes to place in the Top 10 at the South Regional Qualifier Nov. 30, in North Carolina, and qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships Dec. 14 in San Diego.
Summerall, who has aspirations of joining the Navy, hopes to run in college and beyond.
Summerall already has completed two half-marathons and was one minute away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
“I love running,” Summerall says. “I couldn’t just do it as a hobby. I have to be running toward a goal.”
BY THE NUMBERS
128 — The number of ounces Summerall drinks every day before practice to stay hydrated.
45 — The number of miles Summerall runs every week during cross-country season.
2 — The number of races Summerall has won so far this season.
14 — The place Summerall finished at last year’s Class 3A Cross Country Finals.
5 — The number of years Summerall has been running.