SARASOTA — Running always has been in his blood.
Courtland Bernard just didn’t realize how much of an impact the sport had on his family until after he started running cross country in seventh grade.
At the time, Bernard was merely searching for a new sport — one he hoped would ultimately capture his interest. Bernard heard about cross country and showed up for practice one day not knowing what to expect.
“My whole family thought I was crazy,” Bernard says. “None of them ran before.”
It wasn’t until Bernard was immersed in his new sport that he discovered his great-grandfather had actually been an avid runner in the 1900s, in Ireland. And as Bernard began to dig deeper into his family history, he discovered just how much talent his great-grandfather had.
When he was a senior in high school, Bernard’s great-grandfather was less than 20 seconds off of the then-world-record time for a mile.
“Obviously running wasn’t as popular then; but for a runner, he was way above average,” Bernard says. “He was very good.”
Bernard has since surpassed his great-grandfather’s personal best, but he admits he’s still got a long way to go to reach world-record pace.
For now, Bernard is focused on leading the Sarasota High cross-country team back to the Class 3A state meet. Last season, Bernard finished 17th individually and led the Sailors to a 10th-place finish as a team.
“I think a lot of the guys look up to me,” Bernard says. “It means a lot. Cross country is a cool sport because you rely on each other. Whether you’re the No. 1 or the No. 7 runner on varsity, you need each other just as much. You need the whole team to have a good (meet).”
This season, the senior captain is on pace to return to the state meet, having finished in the top four in every cross-country meet this season. He also set a new personal record Sept. 22, at the North Port Invitational, finishing in 15:58.40.
“That barrier — once you cross it, it feels pretty great,” Bernard says of breaking 16 minutes. “I remember when I was in seventh and eighth grade watching the leaders on that team and thinking that was so unbelievably fast. It’s just an (enjoyable) blessing. It felt awesome.
“Hard work pays off,” Bernard says. “This sport requires more work (in my opinion) than any other sport. You have to have the mindset to do it. If you try your hardest, it’ll pay off eventually.”
The Sailors have one more meet, the Sarasota County Championships, scheduled before the Class 3A-District 6 meet Nov. 2.
Following this season, Bernard will turn his attention to the track before moving on to college, where he has aspirations of running for Florida Gulf Coast University. Bernard has an official visit with the Eagles in a couple of weeks and will see what the future holds.
“Running in college means everything to me,” Bernard says. “I wouldn’t want to go to a school where I couldn’t run. For me, it’s part of the experience. Running has been a big part of my life, and I’m a little scared to not have that.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].