Like anyone else, Sam Gilman has had obstacles.
There was a celebration with teammates that was interpreted by judges as taunting which resulted in a disqualification at a state meet. Add to that some injuries that led to a road to recovery prior to his senior year. And to boot, a total of 12 surgeries for a cleft palate have added their share of issues.
But the recent Hilton Head graduate isn't the type to allow those obstacles to set his course. Instead, he overcame them with flying colors. So much so that his distance coach, Max Mayo, has called Gilman "arguably the most decorated runner in South Carolina history."
While appreciative of the complement, Gilman credits his success as a result of determination and competitiveness.
"Obviously, I'm different than most people," he said. "Everyone has a struggle or bump in the road. But, I'm not going to let those bumps define me. That's where I get my leadership from. I look at my family and wonder why I'm so competitive, and I think it is because of my defect. That's why I love running so much because it's where I can be most competitive. I'm going to let my running speak for itself."
No doubt the numbers do speak for themselves. Gilman, an Air Force Academy signee, was an individual cross country state champion as a junior, twice runner-up as a sophomore and senior and member of four championship teams. On the track, he was a two-time state champion in the 1,600-meter race and won the 800 once. Alongside his teammates, he won three titles in the 4x800-meter relay and set the state record in the distance medley and 4x1,600-meter relays. Gilman's 4:06.4 time is the state record in the outdoor mile, as well as his 4:10.37 in the indoor mile.
Sam is the second child of four, which includes older brother Ben, 20, younger sister Reagan, 15, and younger brother J.D., 12, all of which are runners. His grandfather was also a champion runner.
Gilman calls Ben, a former state champion at Hilton Head and currently running cross country and track at Lee University, his biggest influence.
"My brother is the biggest role model in my entire life," he said. "He's the one that drug me out of bed in the morning and made me the runner I am today."
The "Gilman tradition"
Gilman's father, Doug Gilman, said his two oldest boys continued the "Gilman tradition" several years ago.
"I entered them in the Polar Bear race on New Year's Day when they were 12 and 10," he said. "It was after that when my dad told me that he was a runner, so it's a family trait."
He went on to say that Sam eventually made the decision to run full-time rather than to pursue his first love which is baseball.
"I think he had to make a decision in the ninth grade," Doug said. "I coached him when he was nine until he was 14. He was a left-handed pitcher but nervous at the plate. I think he had to decide which one he felt he could do best."
Sam, a self-described die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan, said that leaving baseball wasn't easy.
"Every spring I think about getting back on the ball field," he said. "I was a lefty, and I had a great high school coach. I think he misses me as much as I miss him. But when I got that state record, it defined myself."
Gilman's mother, Annette Gilman, said that Sam is an inspiration to many as a result of his success and leadership.
"He's been through (surgeries) too numerous to count," she said. "He's been a victim of bullying and been picked on. It's nothing he's shy about. One day a kid made a comment about his nose, and he gently put his arm around me and said to keep walking and not to let it bother me. He's also had a lot of back pain since November that he's dealt with. But, that's a credit to his character. He just loves everybody and has always had a good heart."
One Last Race: Gilman leaves for Air Force Academy June 26
Gilman will leave for Air Force Academy on June 26 but has one race left, the Brooks PR Invitational held today in Seattle, Wash. Mayo feels that Gilman may give his top performance as an appropriate end to his high school career.
"It's an incredible story in that family, and he's still got one race left," Mayo said. "They try to bring in the best mile runners in the country. Bottom line, he just does some things that a runner in the state of South Carolina has never done. Sam is a competitor, and they will love him at Air Force. If they tell him to do 100 push-ups, he'll do 150. Whatever challenges they give him, he'll do."
Gilman, who had other talks with Kentucky, Florida, Southern California and Lee University feels Air Force gave him the most opportunity for his career to fly.
"I struggled during cross country season, and the calls declined," he said. "But the coaches at Air Force were loyal and stayed with me during the season. They didn't waver in support of me. It's a big reason I stayed with them."
Gilman claimed the 1,600 at this year's South Carolina High School League state track and field meet. Upon crossing the finish line, he turned and shook hands with runner-up Alex Zangara from Daniel. Gilman says the intent was the same when the disqualification was declared a year prior. And like any other setback, he didn't let it ruin his spirit.
"It was either misinterpreted or just ill-will towards me and my teammates, Gilman said. "I was just trying to congratulate and high-five my team. That was definitely tough mentally and physically. I came out of the outdoor season angry. My body was totally broken down after track season my junior year. Going into cross country, I was just too over-trained and started out alright but didn't have anything to give at the end of the season. I could have hung my hat on it and said it was the end, but I took a month and a half off and changed my mindset. I'm more focused on taking more rest, and it's really paid off so far. I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life."