‘That little guy put out one hell of an effort’

Jace Andersen struck a blow for the “little guy.”

The Killdeer 4-foot-11 seventh-grader stood unassuming as he toed his size 5 1/2 Nike shoe at the starting line of the 3,200-meter run in the Southwest Region Track Meet in Beach.
He was dwarfed by most of the other runners in the race. Andersen looked like he was somebody’s pesky little brother who wanted to tag along with the older guys.
But Andersen has heart and the courage of his convictions. And those bigger guys would soon find out how heart and attitude can sometimes overtake size and strength.
The soft-spoken Andersen wasn’t afraid. When asked if he was competing, he smiled and confidently said “I’m running in the 3,200.”
He was also scheduled to run in a couple of relays for the Cowboys. In fact, he helped the Cowboys place fifth in the 3,200-meter relay.
I like the kid. People saw him as the underdog and everybody likes underdog.
But this “little guy,” this underdog had a big bite.
I was intrigued by Andersen. I remembered how well he did during cross country. Could he capture that same magic.
I stood along the fence as the runners lined up. I overheard one spectator say, “What’s that little guy doing in there? I hope they don’t run over him.”
This was just his second race this season at this distance. Many of the competitors probably didn’t know that he actually won that first race.
But this race was different. There were 16 runners in the race with dreams of chasing state championship glory. And they were all older and stronger – but none had a bigger heart.
Although he was assigned an inside lane, when the starter’s gun sounded, he maneuvered his way into the top 10. No sir, that little guy didn’t get run over.
As the laps evaporated, Andersen slowly moved up. And the crowd started paying attention to the “little engine that could.”
The spectator who was concerned about “the little guy” took a sip of his Gatorade and was quickly becoming a fan said, “Look at the little guy go. Come on, kid, you can do it.”
He wasn’t alone. Others along the fence cheered his every step, hoping he could keep it up but thinking it was a matter of time before his strength gave out. Teammates encouraged the tiny tyke, urging him to stay focused and run like the wind.
He was in fourth place with about 800 meters to go, trailing only Brian Miller of Bowman County, Josiah Orluck of Beach and Isak Olson of Beulah. Andersen surged past Olson and set his site on the other two.
“Yes, yes,” the spectator said, now a full-fledge fan. “Come on, little guy, hold on.”
Andersen tried to make a move on the leaders with about 600 meters, nearly pulling even. But the older guys held him at bey. Andersen made another move on the final turn, but the older guys had a kick, too.
The crowd was on its feet, hoping to see some magic. But as valiantly as he tried, Andersen could not close fast enough. It was Miller in first in 10 minutes, 51.82 seconds, Orluck in second less than a second behind and Andersen a few meters back in 10:54.21.
“That little guy put on one hell of an effort,” the spectator said. “That kid is something.”
After the race, competitors congratulated and teammates swarmed him and hugs, high-fives and back-slaps. He walked slowly over to where his parents were standing, their smiles and tears illustrated their pride in their boy.
He hugged them with all that his little body could give.
Andersen then realized that he had another race to run. He was scheduled to run a leg in the Cowboys’ 1,600-meter relay. And he wanted to run.
But his coach, wearing a grin as wide as the afternoon sky, nixed that.
“Jace, you just ran your little heart out. I’ll find somebody else.”

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