For Glenelg cross country star Alicia Adams, running comes naturally.
The three-time All-Metro pick has plenty of role models at home. Her father Pete Adams, a marathoner before suffering a knee injury, has coached cross country at Laurel High School for 17 years. Her mother Linda also is an avid runner.
As a freshman, Alicia finished second at the Howard County championships -- behind her sister Kristina. Only 8-year-old Benjamin, a soccer player, has yet to take up the sport.
Right now, Alicia is the family's headliner.
The two-time defending Howard County champ and last fall's state Class 2A titlist, she hopes to repeat her county-region-state championship sweep of a year ago. But her top goal is cutting her times to run consistently under 19 minutes.
Last fall, Alicia posted a personal best 18:53 on a flat course at Middletown High in the regional championships. A week earlier in the county title race, she set a county record of 19:25 over three miles. She whittled one second off the mark set, of course, by Kristina, who has turned to cycling at Miami University in Ohio.
Alicia's success, according to her parents and Glenelg coach Roger Volrath, comes from her dedication rather than any external pressure.
"Despite what others might say, I don't think Alicia and Kristina received any overt pressure to run," says Pete Adams. "Being around me and being dragged to cross country meets since they were infants, certainly they were exposed to it. But no one ever told them they had to run."
Adams points to Alicia's tremendous self-discipline that allows her time to train through three seasons, maintain a 3.9 grade point average, play the clarinet in the school band and still find time to volunteer with Pets on Wheels.
For Alicia, running began at age 7 on the Laurel Boys and Girls Club team. When the family moved to Glenwood a couple years later, neither she nor Kristina ran again until high school.
With Kristina out in front, Alicia improved quickly as a freshman, but her sophomore season proved more difficult.
"It was hard being the front runner," says Alicia, 17. "I used to have that person out in front, so I wasn't running quite as fast. I couldn't seem to push myself as much as I could when there was somebody to chase."
After winning the county indoor 2-mile title, Alicia suffered a bout with mononucleosis that sidelined her through the outdoor season. She started running again late in the spring but admits that she had a difficult time coming back.
That fall, she found new inspiration to run harder. In the first race of the season, she lost to Atholton freshman Dana Strickland.
"Having more competition definitely helped me," says Adams. "Having her right there -- and she's right there again this year -- helps me run better."
Earlier this season, Adams finished second at the Westminster Invitational and third at the Howard County Invitational. At Saturday's Harford County Invitational, however, she struggled with 80-degree heat and dehydration to finish 12th in 20:37 over a 3.1-mile course.
Those who know her, however, say that setback only will motivate her more. "As with most of the really good distance runners, it's a matter of desire," says Volrath. "She knows where she wants to be and she's pretty dedicated."
Although she has received attention from dozens of college coaches, Adams has narrowed her choices to a couple of Virginia schools that she doesn't want to name.
"Alicia's a collegiate class runner," says her father, "but she's not what you would call a national class runner. [At the schools she's considering] I think she could have a good chance to make the traveling team in her freshman year or certainly by her sophomore year."
Adams, too, is realistic about her college career. She's not looking at the nation's top programs but at schools where she will have a chance to be competitive.
"I want to go somewhere where I'll be challenged and pushed to run better. I don't want to go somewhere where they have such a great team, I'm not going to be able to run on it," says Adams, who has received only one B in high school -- in band.