GREENVILLE, N.C. — When Alex Sawyer arrived in Greenville just a few short years ago, he was a ship without a rudder. The pandemic had forced the cutting of the track program at his previous school, he was battling with injuries that wouldn’t seem to stop, and he found himself searching for the love of the sport he called his home.

But when he came to Greenville, Sawyer knew he was where he wanted to be. The transition wasn’t that simple, though. He still couldn’t find health and rhythm in training and the energy of the team wasn’t where he hoped it would be.

Gradually, but surely, things started to change last summer. New head coach Billy Caldwell brought fresh energy and a fresh approach and Sawyer was finally able to find some stretches of extended health. With extended health he started to find a rhythm, and some confidence, and most importantly: his identity back.

“When [coach] got here training was different but it was fun. We saw that this could work, like, we’re working hard, and things can go really well,” said Sawyer. “So, I was working my butt off in the training room still and working with Coach Billy on how to balance cross training, biking and running … cross country was alright, it wasn’t really anything great, but I think it was just a good start to race in the uniform again and kind of get my feet wet into the racing scene.

“Then we took that fitness from cross country and kind of used my natural speed to open up indoor which is where I really started do really well, start seeing performances, start seeing the results and you’re like ‘okay yeah that kid’s pretty good.'”

Sawyer really started rolling in the indoor track season last winter. He was able to find some success and some belief in his racing as he surged into a sixth-place performance in the mile at the American Athletic Conference Championships. But success is hardly ever linear.

After some injury tweaks in the spring, Sawyer battled back to compete at a few meets, including the American Outdoor Championships.

Now a junior by competition, Sawyer entered this season with a different approach. “I sat down at the beginning of summer, at the end of the end of the outdoor season break and was just like let’s see what we can do this next year,” says Sawyer. “I was in and out like all over the place years past, but I was like ‘let’s just for three months just dive in to see what I can do, like how much can I put into the summer while being smart?'”

That work has paid off, and Sawyer is a new man. Said his coach, “The growth that I feel like he’s shown over the last year and a half is, I think, more than anyone on the team. You know, when I first got here, I felt like he was kind of reserved, just trying to figure out life, figuring out running, figuring out a lot of things, [he] wasn’t as engaged and kind of slowly worked him back into a place where he can run confident and be himself and we found a system that works for him. And that’s how allowed him to be himself.”

“That’s led him to be a great leader,” continued Caldwell. “Just knowing how to understand himself and knowing who he is as a person allows him to be the guy who people look up to and people respond to.”

And he has been. Not only as a vocal and emotional leader – Sawyer is walking the walk too; he’s been the Pirates’ top performer at every meet so far this cross country season. This, despite Sawyer himself admitting that he prefers track. A testament to the fitness he has worked himself to, he has been getting it done consistently all fall for his team.
And now, he’s got his sights on more.

“I don’t think it’s overly ambitious to say that I want to go for four school records [indoors],” said Sawyer. “I definitely think it’s in the cards to be able to do that.”

Those records he has his sights on? The 1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m and DMR. Those records are fast, but gettable, and his coach believes he can do it too.

“Having the belief in yourself is the biggest factor in performance,” said Caldwell. “Talking with Alex, we believe he has the ability to break a whole lot of school records this year. Anything from the 1k-3k and the DMR is in jeopardy!”

There’ll be no shame in the effort if Sawyer doesn’t end up getting those records. It’s been a long journey to get to now, and even if he falls short, he’ll be an inspiration doing it. But he’s going to give it a run, and those records are in greater danger because of his efforts.

But for now, attention turns to the 2023 American Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships. The Pirates are hosting on their home course at Overton’s Lake Kristi and their leading man is ready to take another step.

Alex Sawyer is ready to run fast, and after a long road home, he’s finally having fun doing it.