For most of the time, watching Bailey Roth run at Coronado the past two years was like watching a prize fight.
One fighter came out aggressive - swinging and jabbing, one combination after another, throwing everything he had before the first bell. It was gutty, but it didn't last.
The other fighter meanwhile held back, picked his spots and went for the knockout. That was Roth.
At season's start it wasn't a surprise that Roth was one of the favorites to win the 4A cross country state title. He had the talent and work ethic, and even more importantly the brains of a runner well beyond his years.
He would never come out and say his goal was to win the state title. Or predict that he could, remembering what his father taught him and his six siblings growing up; "Stay humble, and stay hungry." But since a tumble was the only likely thing keeping Roth from winning the cross country title the season before - that and the fact that he'd won the 1,600 and 3,200 at state track - a 4A cross country title seemed within reach.
At state, it didn't happen. Bailey finished 17th at the state meet in October. He was passed by 11 runners in the final 800 meters and collapsed at the finish line.
It ended a season where Roth went from getting his wisdom teeth pulled to having dried-out sockets to being hit with a virus in the months before. Then, he finally started to get healthy. He cruised to the Colorado Springs Metro 4A-5A Championships, beating second place by 16 seconds. He won regionals with ease. But he got hit with another virus and sinus infection heading into state.
"Poor guy just never got a break," Coronado coach Doug Hugill said.
One could only imagine the excuses that could have come from a highly touted teen athlete. But the All-American runner didn't bat an eye, spoke with confidence and merely said he would use it as extra motivation.
"I have a chance to be positive or negative about anything that comes my way in running and in life," Roth said. "I choose to be positive and try to use it the best way I can. I think that's the best thing anyone can do. I will use this as motivation going forward to come back from a not-so-good note to end the season. I expect that from myself."
What he didn't expect was another two months of more of the same afterward.
"I'll be fine, I'm not making any excuses," he said.
Roth decided to run in the Nike Cross Nationals Southwest Regional in hopes of placing in the top five and earning a spot on the national team.
"I wanted to race. I just had that urge to go out and race," Roth said.
"I knew he wasn't 100 percent, but he told us, 'I really want to go out and run,' and we knew how important it was to him," his father, Brian, said. "And I'm glad we did."
Bailey was passed by three runners in the final feet and finished sixth in Arizona. A change in recent luck, however, had one of the runners ahead of him already qualified for nationals in another region. So Bailey was in.
"He ran a heck of a race despite how he felt and I wouldn't expect anything less of him," said Hugill, who was in attendance. "He's one of the smartest and toughest runners at any level I have ever seen."
Bailey finished 24th in the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., also probably lower than he is capable of. But while Bailey may not be in top form on the course, it'd be hard pressed to say he isn't off it.
"I am really blessed to go out and do something I love. It isn't going to get me down because I get sick at a bad time or I don't have my best race all the time," Bailey said. "It's like this guy my mom helps. He is a war veteran, lost his leg, has (post-traumatic stress), lost his family and pretty much lost everything. But every morning he pulls himself to the floor and does pushups. He never gives up. Neither will I."