Setting goals has always been an important part of athletics, coming up with a target and then systematically working toward it.
For Kenai Central senior Clifford Cochran, the goal has been set outside the athletic arena, but his dedication to reaching that goal has resulted in a great year running track for the Kardinals.
"Now that I'm pursuing an Air Force career, this is the first year I've really trained," Cochran said, "so my performance has been much better than in the past."
Indeed, Cochran was able to show just how far he's come and how well he's been able to set and work toward a goal as he and the rest of Kenai's 3,200-meter relay team took first at the Region III Track and Field Championships Saturday at Skyview. Cochran teamed with Trevor Baldwin, Morgen Saltenberger and Mick Boyle to clock in at 8:33.02, breaking the old Kardinals school record of 8:35.9 set in 1978.
"Oh my gosh, that was so exciting," Kenai Central track coach Liz Burck said. "That's such a great group of guys. They've been running cross country together and track together. They knew if they were going to do it, it would have to be this year with that group of guys, because they do run so well together."
Prior to the meet, Cochran said the team was shooting for the school record.
"Ultimately, we want to go out and win the region meet and qualify for state, but we also have our sights set on the old school record," Cochran said last week. "If each runner drops off two seconds from our previous times, we should break that record."
Goal set, goal achieved.
Cochran said his attention to a training regimen that involves weight lifting in addition to running has made all the difference this season.
"I'm more serious, but I'm also concentrating more on strength instead of endurance," Cochran said. "In past years, I'd just go out and run several miles and thought that would be enough.
"In the past year, I've concentrated on weight lifting to build my strength up. Overall, I have a stronger kick (now) and it's actually helped my endurance. I don't tire as easily."
Adding to his endurance and strength has been his summer job at Custom Seafood Processors in Soldotna, where there's plenty of overtime during the peak of the fishing season.
"Working 18-hour shifts really helped my endurance," Cochran said.
The extra strength has even allowed Cochran to move from the long-distance events to long sprints and middle distance. Cochran also qualified for the region meet in the 300 hurdles.
So what was the inspiration for Cochran's change in workout habits?
Cochran said his dreams began to take flight 10 years ago, when he first was inspired to follow his father, Philip Cochran, and his grandfather, David Cochran, into the aviation field. Cochran would eventually like to become an airline pilot.
As a means to that end, Cochran has enrolled in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and will pursue a major in aviation management.
Much of the reason for Cochran's dedication to his training program has been to ensure that he meets the program's physical fitness requirements.
"The level of maturity that it takes to realize, at this age, that that's a goal he seriously wants to pursue is commendable but he's just that kind of kid," Burck said. "I'm not surprised he decided to do it, and I'm not going to be surprised when he's terribly successful at it."
Of course, Cochran also just enjoys running. He's been on the cross country team for four years at Kenai Central, and said he wishes he had done that instead of playing soccer during his years at Kenai Middle School.
"I like running, but it's also a chance to let my mind wander," Cochran said. "I've solved some of my toughest math problems while running.
"To most people, it might sound strange, but I find running relaxing."
Cochran said he added track to his repertoire as a sophomore.
"It's not only running, but the people I run with, and the coaches are fantastic," Cochran said of sticking with cross country. "I started track as a sophomore, mostly just so I could get a front-row seat to watch my cousin, (former Soldotna High standout) Janna Schaafsma hurdle, and to keep in shape for cross country."
Cochran said his biggest influences have been members of his family. His sister, Larissa, a sophomore at Kenai, also trains with him.
"Over the summer, she's my running buddy. If we spot a moose, I send her out and run the other direction," Cochran joked.
Cochran's father is an aircraft technician at the Soldotna Municipal Airport, and recently helped him restore a 1979 BMW 733i to running order.
"It didn't run. We even had trouble loading it onto a trailer," Cochran said. "With his help, we fixed it up. Now it's a beauty."
Cochran's paternal grandfather, David, is currently giving him flying lessons out of the Soldotna airport, and Cochran said he's also learned a lot from his maternal grandfather, Clifford Washburn.
"The influence they've had in my life has been irreplaceable," Cochran said. "I remember 10 years ago, on a trip to New York, walking with Grandpa Washburn through town and watching how he treated everyone with equal respect. He would laugh and joke with the owner of the local junkyard and the mayor of the town."
Burck said that Cochran's anecdote about his grandfather epitomizes what she's seen from him during his high school career.
"The one thing I admire about Clifford is his ability to interact with and get along with (everybody)," Burck said.
Burck said she's had Cochran as a student in upper-level classes where work well with his peers, but also has watched him interact positively with students for whom the coursework was a challenge.
"They all still respect him and admire him," Burck said.
With graduation behind him, Cochran has just one more high school event on his calendar the state track and field championships this week at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. Cochran finished 71st at the state cross country meet, but the Kardinals' 3,200 relay time has them seeded fifth heading into the state track meet.
"It's been a pretty good senior year," Cochran said. "So much goes on, it almost seems like a dream looking back on it.
"... I'd like to thank God for the gifts he's given me. Four years ago, I couldn't have dreamed of being in the position I'm in right now."
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