Parker Wolfe arrived at a high school track meet in 2018, having recently set a personal record in the 2-mile. During this day's race, Wolfe would face strong competition from a rival who would pass him — but undeterred, Wolfe would rally, and the two runners would duel back and forth the rest of the race.
By the end of the race, Wolfe would finish ahead of his rival. But more importantly, he'd shatter his PR from the previous week by 25 seconds.
This event embodied who Wolfe is as a runner. And this past week, Wolfe found out that he had been named the Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, an award given annually to the top high school cross country runner.
It hasn’t been an easy path for Wolfe, though. In July, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was sidelined for a significant part of summer training.
“I had the worst of the people I know that got it. It affected my lungs. I had some heart issues from it as well. I bounced back a lot faster than I thought I would, though,” Wolfe said. “(It) took a good month to get back to where I was before I got COVID.”
Wolfe would not only bounce back from these symptoms and the loss of training — he would run away from the rest of the field during his senior year. He dominated in cross country, winning every race in his fall season en route to breaking the Colorado State Championships record, before setting the top 5K time in the country to win the RunningLane National Cross Country Championships.
“That was a huge goal of mine coming into the (national championships), that’s definitely one of my favorite awards until this one,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe didn't come into high school imagining that he would become the phenom he is now. Though his mom ran in college, Wolfe began his high school career with his focus set mainly on baseball.
“Freshman year came around and I didn’t have anything to do in the fall, since baseball is a spring sport. And my mom recommended cross country and I kind of just fell in love with it,” Wolfe said. “Then spring rolled around and I decided to do track instead, and it kind of just went from there.”
Wolfe’s rapid rise from a baseball player to one of the nation's premier cross country runners didn’t happen by accident. He's spent his high school years in the meticulous pursuit of improvement and has made leaps each season.
“He took probably 40 seconds off of his 5K between sophomore and junior year,” Wolfe’s high school coach, Ethan Dusto, said. “He’s done a whole bunch of really aggressive training over the summer, working with a bunch of really top-notch guys.
“I’ve never coached an athlete who comes in pretty fast and can do that,” Dusto added. “When you’re coming in running like a 17-something minute 5K and to be able to just keep taking 45 seconds off, I’ve never coached an athlete that’s been that consistent at improving.”
Wolfe will be expected to make an immediate impact on UNC’s rising track and field team under head coach Chris Miltenberg. Wolfe credits Miltenberg and the rest of the coaching staff for his decision to come to Chapel Hill.
“The coaches are super passionate about the sport and about the team and they want to win, which is something I’m passionate about as well," Wolfe said. "They kind of just clicked with me. I really liked the North Carolina area — it looks like a good place to run."
Since Miltenberg was hired, UNC has experienced a renaissance in track and field — and Wolfe represents the type of high-profile runner that can take the program over the top.
But perhaps more importantly, Wolfe works to represent the best in top athletes: resilience, a drive to win and a constant pursuit of perfection.