Atholton sophomore Graham Bazell has been well-known in the county track and field community since he began running in competitions as a sixth-grader.
But after his recent performance in the 3,200-meter race at the Montgomery Invitational Indoor Track Meet on Jan. 13, his reputation is spreading throughout the country.
Bazell won that race in 9 minutes, 13.65 seconds - the nation's fastest scholastic indoor time in the 3,200 this year, according to dyestat.com.
He began to make his mark on the high school scene last year as a freshman in cross country, when he finished second in the Class 2A state championship race and was named second-team All-Metro.
"I was surprised at how well I did at the state meet last year," Bazell said. "That motivated me to train harder for the indoor season."
Atholton went on to capture the 3A-2A state championships in indoor track, with Bazell contributing a second-place finish in the 3,200 meters.
He wrapped up his freshman campaign in the spring as a member of the Raiders' 1,600 relay team that placed second at the 2A outdoor state championships. In addition, Bazell finished third in the 3,200.
"Graham's still getting better, and I'm not sure how good he really is," Atholton coach Dwight Bowler said. "He is not afraid of hard work, possesses heart and determination, he's never late, always shows up prepared and has a lot of guts in practice and on the racetrack. He has the mark of a champion."
Bazell's affinity for hard work is best exemplified by his daily routine.
By 5:30 a.m., he is well into his 60-minute ride on a stationary bicycle. After school, Bazell runs and practices with the Atholton team from 2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m.
He heads home for a PowerBar before a 30-minute workout with a medicine ball, focusing on core exercises that strengthen his abdominal muscles. Then, he swims laps at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County pool from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m.
Back home by 8:15 p.m., he has a dinner high in carbohydrates and protein. Study time begins at 9 p.m. and sometimes stretches past midnight.
In a triathlon
A week before last year's outdoor state championships, Bazell competed in the Columbia Triathlon - swimming 1.5 kilometers, riding a bike 41 kilometers and running 10 kilometers. He took first place in the 15-19 age division.
This summer, in addition to running 35 miles a week, he competed in three more triathlons and two duathlons.
"Cross-training is exciting, and it keeps me motivated," Bazell said. "I feel a lot stronger during my workouts and races, and it helps me physically with breathing, cardiovascular and aerobic conditioning."
Bazell has benefited from training and competing with Atholton teammate Andrew Revelle, a three-time cross-country state champion and first-team All-Metro selection in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. This winter, Revelle is not competing for the Raiders' indoor team, thrusting the spotlight onto Bazell.
"I haven't had to run without him, and I depended on having him there," Bazell said. "It's mentally tough because I'm used to him pushing me in workouts. I've definitely grown and learned some independence because now I have to push myself."
In his eye-opening 3,200-meter race at the Montgomery Invitational against a highly competitive field, Bazell did not want to start too fast. Planning to conserve energy, he hung around with the front of the pack. He had hoped to match his personal best time of 9:25 in the event, which he ran last year during the outdoor season.
Sitting in third place after the first 1,600 meters, Bazell shifted into another gear and surged into second place.
"I felt strong and saw Jason Weller [Pennsylvania's top scholastic 3,200-meter runner] ahead of me," Bazell said. "I reeled him in and went past him."
Slightly concerned that he had expended too much energy trying to pass his competitor, Bazell was comforted as he moved into second place feeling strong. With Virginia's Mike Spooner 20 meters ahead, Bazell then focused on capturing the lead.
With 600 meters left in the race, Bazell was nipping at Spooner's heels.
"My strategy was to speed up and surge past him," Bazell said. "Mentally, I thought if he saw me go by him at a fast pace, he wouldn't be able to make the effort to stay with me. I gave it all I had and kicked it in."
Crossing the finish line, Bazell - exhausted, disoriented and stumbling - was happy with the result but had no idea that he had just run the nation's fastest time this year.
Because of his small stature, the 5-foot-3 and 115-pound runner is perfectly suited to the indoor surface, which is 200 meters in circumference as opposed to the 400-meter outdoor track. With a fierce competitive desire to go along with his compact frame, Bazell can easily maintain his speed and form through the proliferation of sharp turns.
In his next few races, he does not expect to approach his personal-best time in the 3,200 meters. That's because he has to compete in the 1,600 meters before the 3,200, and fatigue could play a factor in holding him back.
Focusing on 3,200 meters
But at the Nike Indoor National Championships at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex on March 11, he will concentrate solely on the 3,200, hoping to shave some time off his national-best mark.
"Anytime you have an elite athlete, it's very exciting," Bowler said. "Some of the things he did as a freshman were unheard of, and now, as only a sophomore, he's blowing through some times. He is the real deal."
While Bazell said he finds serenity through running, he also thrives on showing observers what he can do.
"Running helps me focus, reduces stress and helps me express myself," Bazell said. "I enjoy racing in particular, and I love making people go 'Wow! I've never seen someone run like that before.' "