Colin Baker Inspired by Retiring Coach

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Colin Baker is a perfect example of achieving a goal if setting the mind to it.

The Academic Magnet senior approached his coach, Brian Johnson, as an eighth grader with the dream of reaching Foot Locker Nationals by the end of his high school career.

On Saturday, Baker can say it's a dream come true.

Baker, who captured his second straight individual state championship at the 3A meet in November, will depart for San Diego, California, on Thursday with an added goal of finishing in the top 10 of 40 runners to obtain an All-American status. The race is set for 10 a.m. PT at Balboa Park.

He is only the seventh in-state runner to reach the Foot Locker National Championship as it enters its 40th year. Baker, who finished with a time of 15:08.6 to earn a fourth-place finish at the Foot Locker South race  (Watch the race) Thanksgiving weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, said that he set the goal of qualifying for nationals came from the inspiration of a previous Charleston-area runner.

"Growing up in the Charleston area, the best runner back then was Brent Demarest," Baker said. "I knew that he had made the Foot Locker Nationals (Watch Foot Locker Nationals interview with Demarest), and it's something that I wanted to do, too."

Baker earned his second state title with a time of 14:48, which set the course record at Sandhills Research Center in Columbia. Johnson said that his senior's progress grew steadily each year leading to his final race. 

"When he got accepted into Academic Magnet his eighth grade year, he told me his goal by his senior year was to make the Foot Locker Nationals," Johnson said. "It was a pretty ambitious goal. He progressed each year as did his training and growth fitness-wise. I'm very satisfied as a coach to see the work he put in has paid off. He was so driven and put in all the miles he needed. I'm extremely happy for him."

Johnson plans to retire as a coach at the end of the season to spend more time with his family. He is currently in remission from a battle with Leukemia and stated that he's "doing well." 

Read: Academic Magnet coach undergoing treatment for leukemia

Baker said that he also drew inspiration from Johnson to work rigorously for his goal.

"He could have used the time to spend with his family that he spent helping to train me," Baker said. "Not that he doesn't spend time with his family because he does, but he believed in me. I obviously would like to pay it back to him. He believed in me from the start. I told him my goals, and he could have said, 'Well, I don't know,' but he didn't. I'm definitely a self motivator, but it's great to have someone believe in me like that."

Baker contributed in helping Academic Magnet win a team state cross country title his freshman year. The following two seasons, the team finished as runners-up before placing fourth this year. 

Individually, Baker also has a pair of track titles in the 3,200-meter race the past two seasons. He will attempt for a three-peat in the spring. 

Baker will attend Harvard and plans to major in biomedical engineering next fall. He will also run cross country and track.

Before beginning the next chapter of his life, Baker hopes to close the book on his high school career in novel fashion.

"The state meet obviously was a good race for me," he said. "Foot Locker South my goal was to qualify. The Foot Locker Nationals, I'll look to be a lot more aggressive and hope to make a move in the middle of the race. I'm really proud with how my senior year has gone so far. I'm grateful for my teammates, coaches and family for supporting me. The goal is to win, but I'd be satisfied with getting in the top 10 and being an All-American."

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