One of the first things Chantilly High boys' middle/long distance runner Chris Foley has seen every day when he wakes up for the past year is a place card next to his bed which reads, "Do You Want to be a Champion?"
The answer, of course, is yes. "I've looked at that every morning," he said.
Throughout his high school running career going into this past spring season, Foley had not attained that achievement. He had come close — a fifth place finish at last fall's cross country championships, a third place finish in the 3200 (two-mile) event at indoor states — but had never hit pay dirt.
But that all changed last weekend in Richmond where Foley, a senior who will be running collegiately at the University of Virginia next school year, became a state champion by taking first place in the 3200 event with a winning time of 9 minutes, 8.43 seconds, besting second place Blake Theroux (9:13.82) of Western Branch (Chesapeake) and third place finisher Natnael Meseret (9:23.25) of Lee High in Springfield.
"I knew the ability was there," said Chantilly head coach Matt Gilchrist, of Foley. "But after several seasons … He's had his disappointments at the state level."
<b>IN SATURDAY'S</b> 3200 finals race, held at Sports Backers Stadium, Foley, on a hot summer day, ran conservatively over the first three laps (of eight) before making his move and taking the lead on lap four. He never lost the lead. He was pushed by both Theroux and Meseret most of the remainder of the way, but increased his lead on the final lap.
"Going into that final lap I hadn't been feeling great," said Foley. "But I figured, ‘This is states and I have one more lap. There's nothing I can't do.’"
During the final down stretch, after he had held off Theroux, Foley knew the race was his.
"It was an amazing feeling," said Foley. "The last 50 meters I just ran with a big grin on my face. Winning a state title had been a goal of mine since my freshmen year."
<b>FOLEY WAS A CONFIDENT</b> runner entering the spring outdoor season. He had finished a disappointing second place in the 3200 at the indoor state championships — finishing behind Centreville High's Yazid Zouaimia — but he had bounced back strongly with an All-American showing at the Nike Indoor National Championships in Boston a few weeks later. There, at the Reggie Lewis Center, Foley finished fourth in the country with a time of 9:09.75.
"That was a huge confidence booster for me," said Foley. "I didn't feel I had a great [indoor] postseason. So to come back was big for me."
"It solidified in his mind that his training was working," said Gilchrist, of Foley's showing in Boston. "He had these lofty goals, and now he knew he could reach them."
At the recent Concorde District outdoor season championships, Foley won the 3200 race. He did not compete in the event at regionals but was at the top of his game in the race at states last week.
Gilchrist said Foley, who scored a school-record time, ran an outstanding race in Richmond.
"Running a perfect race, if you will, involves a lot of skill and mental fortitude," said the coach. "Tactically he ran real well. In the second mile I sort of expected [Theroux or Meseret] to come up and take the lead. But he didn't shy away from the competition and was able to hold them off and extend the lead."
Foley ran his final lap in just over 60 seconds.
"That is fast," said Gilchrist. "Most of his laps are 67-68."
Gilchrist was thrilled to see Foley finally experience a first place finish at states.
"His goal has been to win a state title," said Gilchrist. "When you come close a few times and then it comes down to your last race as a senior, it's satisfying to see it pay off."
Givon Holmes, the Centreville High track and field coach, has enjoyed watching Foley compete in recent years.
"He's a very good runner and a tough kid," said Holmes. "It's been interesting to watch he and Yazid [Zouaimia] battle this season. We have nothing but admiration for Chris."
<b>LAST YEAR</b> as a junior, Foley finished third at indoor states in the 3200. That was a good race for Foley at the time and Gilchrist thought that success would carry over into the 2009 spring season. But Foley wore down physically late in that outdoor season.
"It just didn't happen," said Gilchrist.
But Foley came back and put together a solid senior year, capped by the state title.
In his high school career, Foley has captured district and region titles, and earned All-State recognition six times (track and cross country combined). He said two of the most memorable moments of his running career were being part of successful relay teams — the Chargers' region winning 4x800 this past winter, and this spring's 4x800 team that finished third at regionals and broke a school record. That foursome included Mohamed Labor-Koroma, Matt Cumpian, Sean McGorty and Foley.
Foley is looking forward to running at UVA.
"I can't wait to go to college next year and be a part of that team," said Foley, who is set to graduate from Chantilly with his class members on June 22.