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High School Track: Balenseifen Looking To Cap Historic Career

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Deer Creek's Bryce Balenseifen crosses the finish line after setting the state record in the 3,200 meters April 10 at the Carl Albert Invitational. Deer Creek's Bryce Balenseifen crosses the finish line after setting the state record in the 3,200 meters April 10 at the Carl Albert Invitational.
DEER CREEK, Oklahoma -

Everyone can run. After all, running is simply putting one foot in front of the other at a quicker pace than you would if you were walking.

But some can run better than most, a result of God-given physical attributes or a dedication others lack. Deer Creek senior Bryce Balenseifen is one of those runners. This weekend, he'll wrap up his storied high school career, one that could end with 22 team and individual state championships in track and cross country. Not bad for a career that had very small beginnings.

Balenseifen readily admits he didn't get into running because he had dreams of gold medals or even a full ride to college (he's committed to Oklahoma State).

“I started running in the seventh grade,” Balenseifen said in a recent interview alongside his coach, David Riden. “I ran cross country to get in shape for basketball. I ended up winning my first race and I realized I was pretty good at it.”

By the time he hit high school, Balenseifen had dropped all other sports and focused exclusively on running. Moving up to ninth grade meant he was under the coaching of Riden, who is now in his 11th season as track and cross country track for Deer Creek. Riden had seen Balenseifen from a distance when he was in middle school, but didn't pressure him to continue running once he got to high school.

“It's good to hear Bryce say that ultimately it was his choice to run and decide that because you want a kid to come to (that decision),” Riden said. “Running's not easy. If you're going to put the time in, you don't want it to be because someone bullied you or pressured you into it; you want them to come to it naturally.”

That said, Riden was plenty excited for Balenseifen to make it up to high school, especially once he broke the five-minute barrier in the mile as an eighth-grader. But even then, expectations had to be tempered.

“You have to develop kids one step at a time,” Riden said. “We have seen kids that have been hyped when they were young, all across the state and when you put that hype on and build them up, it can come crashing down on them. That's usually not a very healthy environment to build.”

Running came naturally to Balenseifen, as well as a love for the sport. While others find it a pain (sometimes literally) or boring, Balenseifen sees both the simplicity and the complexity of running.

“I enjoy running because it's raw competition,” Balenseifen said. “It's not like (in basketball) this guy's a good shooter and this guy is good at defense. It's just go out there and race. I just think that's fun.”

Balenseifen didn't become a distance sensation overnight, though. It took a lot of hours and hundreds of miles to get where he is today. Riden consistently mixes up team workouts, putting his group through a variety of paces that consist of much more than going out and running several miles every day.

“It helps mentally just to change things up,” Balenseifen said. “You have to know what it's like to run fast and sometimes it's just fun and exciting. You can feel fast when you do shorter repeats. Mentally, that's a huge weapon to have, that confidence.”

This year has been particularly special for Balenseifen, as he managed to set two state distance records that had stood for over 20 years. He set the 1,600 meters record on April 4 at Jenks Invitational with a time of 4:11:57. Less than a week later at the Carl Albert Invitational, he broke the 32-year-old record in the 3,200 meters, finishing the two miles in 9:16:20. Unfortunately, his 1,600 meter record didn't even last a month, as Norman North's Ben Barrett eclipsed the new mark on April 30.

“I was a little bummed because I wasn't able to run the race with him,” Balenseifen said. “It was at our conference meet and I made the decision to run the 800 (meters) earlier in the day and I got a really bad blister and I was bummed I didn't at least get the chance to race him.”

Balenseifen wouldn't be where he is now without the guidance of his coach, both in and out of running. The two have developed quite the relationship over the past four years, so much so that Balenseifen says, “Coach Riden is my best friend,” without a moment's hesitation and without a hint of joking.

Riden says there's no one besides his wife whom he talks with more than Balenseifen.

“I don't even know how to put words on it,” Riden said. “He's like a son to me and I know a lot of people say that, but it's true with us. I think it just comes from Bryce. He exudes things and conducts himself in ways I try to model but he does better than I do a lot of times.”

The two spend plenty of time together during school and at practice, but if that was the extent of their time together, they probably wouldn't be able to consider themselves as good of friends. School is just the start of their time together. Riden hosts a Bible study on Tuesday nights that Balenseifen attends. The two are texting so much that Riden's wife and Balenseifen's friends know the recipient before they even ask.

Balenseifen even shared his love for fishing with Riden, taking him to a favorite watering hole in Yukon where Riden caught his first fish.

“The first time I met Coach Riden, I was thinking who is this crazy, hippie-looking guy, (who wears) Hollister?” Balenseifen recalled. “I was like this guy is crazy, he probably runs 10 miles a day and I'm just running cross country to get in shape. It's cool to think we're sitting here right now looking back at all the memories we've had.”

There's one more memory to make together before Balenseifen heads off to Stillwater to run for the Cowboys. While he's poised to win four more individual or relay gold medals at the 5A state track meet this weekend, there's only one goal for Balenseifen.

“My goal is to do whatever I need to do to win a team state championship,” Balenseifen said. “People say, ‘Bryce are you going to drop out of the 800 at state so you can focus on the mile?' and I say, ‘”Nope because I think I can get more points if I do all four.'”

That goal is a testament to Balenseifen's character. Even with individual glory on the line, it's team first in the last high school race of his career.

Everyone can run, but not everyone can do that.

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