On a chalk-lined field somewhere, maybe this was the day runner Brendan Rudnicki had his great race. He'd always imagined that moment when he finally won.
It would start with the fans roaring from 100 meters outside the finish. His legs would tremble from exhaustion, but he would never sprint faster. And as he crossed the line, Brendan said he would extend his arms high. (He does this by showing you how high he'd put them up.)
"I'd just love that," he said as his eyes lit up behind his thin, circular glass frames.
But that's just Brendan dreaming for now. The autistic cross country and track runner at Palmer Ridge has never won a race, and people tell him it'll only get tougher from here.
They'll try to remind him he's on the varsity squad now and he's facing the best high school runners in the state. They will try to tell the junior that it's normal not to win a race that involves hundreds, if not thousands, of others racers and that very few actually win a race, even the elite and endorsed runners. These people just don't him to get his hopes up.
But this was Brendan they were talking to, and he didn't care about all that.
Instead, on a weekly basis the Bears' seventh- to 10th-fastest runner will tell his dad, who is his cross country coach, his two brothers on the team and his teammates he still needs to win one. He even writes on school assignments that he wants to win and tells his teachers about it.
"He just has that drive to him," said teammate Eric Hamer, one of the area's top runners. "You have to love his determination in everything he does. He keeps us honest on long runs and pushes us on all of our workouts. He's been great for our team, not only as a leader but a dang good runner."
Sometimes it's hard to remember Brendan has a pervasive development disorder, a middle-range degree of autism that causes a delay in his socialization and communication skills. In his daily life he lacks the normal communal characteristics of his peers, but seemingly little else. He plays piano, hikes, runs, calls shotgun on road trips with his family and writes fictional stories that revolve around anything from suspense to taking a scene from Pixar's "Toy Story," and replacing Woody and Buzz Lightyear with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
"And then once in a while he'll just say something so insightful about life or during a prayer that it'll startle you a little," said his dad, Larry Rudnicki. He took over the head cross country job for Kandee Kodhl who went on maternity leave before the season. "Like where the heck did that come from?"
But those are the easy parts. His disorder has pushed him so no one can quite fully reach him. Brendan can't always tell you how he feels, and when he tells you what he's thinking, it can sometimes be incomprehensible.
His mother and dad first found out about the condition when Brendan was 4.
"We didn't have the autism knowledge we have today," Larry Rudnicki said. "People thought, 'Oh, maybe it will just take him a while to talk. Boys develop slower than girls.' But we knew something. When he did start talking, he would repeat stuff and he would do some other strange things like line all his toys up instead of playing with them. We knew something was different, so we took him in to find out. . He was kind of in his own world."
Brendan grew up fast in their eyes, but his development was always a couple of steps behind his peers. Early in school, he didn't play much with other kids and mostly hung out on the fringes of the classroom by himself. Then by fifth and sixth grade he got a little more social, especially with his two brothers, but by middle school he was back to square one socially.
Younger brothers Kevin and Andrew say Brendan is just on a different wavelength from everybody else.
"We'd be eating dinner and he didn't always understand what we are talking about," said Kevin, who is a year younger. "And we didn't always know how to talk to him and he was our brother. We wanted to know what he was feeling, but I guess we couldn't."
Then came running. It was the start of eighth grade, and Brendan's father signed Brendan and his brothers up for cross country. Larry Rudnicki loved running. He was an assistant track and cross country coach at his former high school when the family lived in Michigan in the 1990s, and before that he was a varsity runner in high school who would've tried to walk on at Villanova if not for a career-crippling ankle injury.
"I just wanted them to do something," Rudnicki said. "So I said, 'Hey, try running.'"
All three of his sons ended up loving it.
Brendan continued through high school and his father became an assistant at the start of his freshman season. Soon, it became Brendan's niche, and he raved about it so much that other special needs students joined the team in the coming years.
Today, Brendan is an unquestioned varsity runner.
"He has the talent to run really fast, but you just never know with him. Sometimes he won't tell you that he's hurting so I'll never know and then he runs a little slower," Rudnicki said. "And at some of the bigger races he gets a little overwhelmed with how many people are there. He finally told me that. But this team knows how fast he can run at any time if he puts it all together. He's our wild card."
Thursday it paid off. The weather was murky at Fountain Creek, and it was the Pikes Peak League Championship. Brendan looked across the line at the start of the varsity race before he leapt out and helped the Bears to a league crown in 18 minutes, 6 seconds, seventh fastest on the team.
Brendan was thrilled at his 22-second personal improvement, but still, he's ready to cross the line with arms extended in victory.
Meanwhile, his dad just smiles.
"I was a really happy coach," Larry Rudnicki said, "but an even prouder father."