Eric Ziegler was a great hurdler, an athlete who had to go beyond his physical ability to get what he wanted.
In 2006, at a regional track meet in Amherst, Ziegler was trying to make state, and needed to finish in the top four to do so. If he didn't, his high school track career would be over.
On the side of the track was then-Columbian boys track coach Craig Snyder, pacing around and looking as nervous as I had ever seen him.
"This is what he's been working on for a year," Snyder said to me.
Ziegler made state, sending the Columbian fans at the meet into a frenzy. He went on to make the finals of the state meet. Having covered him for much of that season, it was impossible not to pull for Ziegler, a usually smiling, hard-working kid who always had a positive attitude.
Still, when high school athletes graduate, that's usually the end of their story, apart from a feature that might be done on them when they reach college.
But in this case, Ziegler's story ended up going beyond high school, and beyond college at Kent State, where he also ran.
When I sat down with the now-Marine earlier this month, I started to ask him about his track career, since he still has eligibility at Kent State.
"I went to Kent State, I ran for them for three years, and then this deployment happened," Ziegler said. "I wasn't able to run my fourth year because of this deployment. I have a little bit of school left."
"That's kind of No. 1, finishing school," Ziegler said. "My track career's done."
There was not even a moment of regret in Ziegler's eyes as he uttered the sentence.
He went to Afghanistan in April 2010, and served for more than seven months.
While in Afghanistan, Ziegler had a job most of us (who have never been in the military) can't imagine. He would sit on the sides of trucks looking for roadside explosives. He also had other assignments, and said that "you never know how you're going to react" the first time you've been shot at.
Suddenly, being nervous about a track meet seems small. But Ziegler, who still said that "running is my life," didn't downplay that experience.
"It's good to take a step back, really, look at all your accomplishments, your mistakes, and obviously (making state was) a big accomplishment for me," he said. "So you know, I look back, take a step back, see what I did then, do that now. It's just mile markers in life. That was a big mile marker for me."
The most remarkable thing about Ziegler to me is that he survived his time in Afghanistan without a serious injury, looking in the best shape I had ever seen him. With his personality and maturity - the 23-year-old talks like a man much older than that - he could seemingly do just about anything he wanted.
But he made it clear he wants to go back to Afghanistan, which could mean more danger. But it seems the military, and service to the country he loves, are a big part of who Ziegler is. It's something that even a few years ago, he never would have expected.
"That was something that was pretty sudden. All through high school, and part of college, I thought 'absolutely not' to the military," Ziegler said. "There's two worlds I never saw. I'd only known of the enlisted side. There's an officer side as well, people make a very decent living. I saw the virtues, values the military holds, and I thought I fit in."
When I first met Ziegler, he was an athlete. In my stories about him then, it probably was clear to the reader that I always admired him, both for his ability and his heart.
But in sports, I try to never use the word hero. It's not appropriate, when men and women are serving and police and firefighters are risking their lives, to term any feat on the field or court as heroic.
And yet, Ziegler, like so many others, is making sacrifices for the rest of us.
I will always admire Ziegler the athlete. But he and his fellow soldiers deserve much more than athletic admiration.