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As a seventh grade soccer player at Elm City Middle in the spring of 2015, Amando Robles had no idea that his life was about to change when he decided to try out for cross-country.
Five years later, Robles, now a senior at Fike High, reaped the benefit of that decision as he signed his National Letter of Intent on Tuesday afternoon to continue his running career at Barton College of NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas. Robles will run for the Bulldogs cross-country team in the fall, the indoor track and field team in the winter and outdoor track and field team in the spring.
His soccer career now a distant memory, Robles said that, as a soccer player, he was asked if he was interested in running cross-country, which is a spring sport at the middle school level.
“I tried out in my eighth grade year and I ended up beating out the entire team,” he said. “Then we went to a bunch of races and I would always place first or second.
“I always thought that in high school I would just play soccer and then I got kind of good at (running). I didn’t just do it because I got good at it but I started liking it — a lot! I just liked running, for whatever reason.”
Fike cross-country coach Cheryl Gardner was Robles coach in Elm City. She said he displayed natural talent for distance running right away.
“He was good right away,” she said. “He had to be pushed and taught a little bit on how to run and maintain that, but yeah, he was my top runner as an eighth grader.”
Robles, the son of Yolanda Robles of Wilson, is happy to be one of the first recruits for Barton head coach Tyler Amerson, another Wilson high school product who went on to run for the Bulldogs. Amerson, a Beddingfield High graduate, was promoted from interim to head coach last May. Robles said he received offers to compete in track and cross-country from NCAA Division III programs Methodist in Fayetteville and Randolph-Macon in Lynchburg, Virginia. He also received interest from such programs as Div. I institutions Campbell and Liberty as well as Barton’s Conference Carolinas rival Mount Olive.
But staying home and close to his family was important, said Robles, who has a 3.5 GPA at Fike and will get a combination of academic and athletic scholarships from Barton. Robles said he is considering a major in sports medicine, possibly kinesiology.
He’s excited about reuniting with some of the runners he competed against in high school, including Evan Lee, a Hunt graduate, and Deshawn Owens, a C.B. Aycock product.
“I know Evan Lee runs there,” Robles said. “I’ve never been on a team with him but I’ve just been told that he’s like a freak of nature. He’s great and he’s very fast. And then Coach Amerson, he’s new but he knows what he’s doing.”
Robles said that he used to try to keep pace with Owens at meets when he was younger.
“I don’t think he knows me but I just know that at races my freshman year the dude I’d try to keep up with, keep my eye on, was Deshawn,” Robles said.
Robles was the Wilson County boys cross-country champion last fall. On the track, he’s competed in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs outdoors and the 1,000 and 1,600 indoors. However, the distances expand in college where most of the men’s cross-country races are eight kilometers and 10K in championship races, compared to the 5K distance in high school. He can run that distance in track in college.
Robles said that both Amerson and Fike boys track coach Sonny West think he can go longer distances without much adjustment.
“They really do think I’ll be more of a 10K guy rather than a miler,” he said. “I feel like I can sustain the pace for a longer distance rather than a really fast pace.
“I’m assuming Barton’s going to have me doing a lot of mileage over the summer.”
West said that Robles has been on Barton’s radar since before Amerson took over the programs. His predecessor, David Nicholson, who stepped down in July 2018, was interested in Robles.
Gardner said that Robles has succeeded as a distance runner stems from his sheer determination.
“Just his work ethic and his determination to do better and improve is just what keeps him going every day. He’s got his stats down and knows what he needs to do and just wants to improve,” she said. “He’s just a leader. Everybody looks up to him and you can count on him to be there. If he’s got to work, he’ll get that workout in earlier. And I think once they started pursuing he knew that ‘I’ve got to keep it going.’”