Zama American sophomore distance runner Andrew Quallio goes through practice paces on Tuesday at Mike Petty Stadium, Kubasaki High School, Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Zama American sophomore distance runner Andrew Quallio goes through practice paces on Tuesday at Mike Petty Stadium, Kubasaki High School, Camp Foster, Okinawa. (Dave Ornauer / S&S)


Charles Burns marveled at the sight of Zama American sophomore Andrew Quallio as he ran around the curve onto the back stretch of the Mike Petty Stadium track.

Muscular in upper body and especially the thighs, the 5-foot-6 distance runner was a guest of Burns’ Kubasaki Dragons while Quallio attended last week’s Far East High School Music Festival.

Quallio’s fast pace and running ease was not lost on Burns.

“There’s no letup in that workout,” Burns mused during Quallio’s nearly one-hour workout. “I wish I had him on our team.”

Quallio came to Japan over the winter holiday with his parents, Senior Chief Petty Officer Richard and Lt. Sharon Quallio, now assigned to Atsugi Naval Air Facility, with a strong running pedigree. Quallio said he plans to be at Zama High until he graduates.

Last November, running for Sandalwood High School of Jacksonville in the Florida Class 4-A cross-country championship, Quallio took ninth place in 16 minutes, 24 seconds — faster by six seconds than any Pacific time the past five years.

And he has wasted little time since coming to Zama in becoming the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools’ premier distance runner:

He’s unbeaten in four meets so far. His season best in the two-mile is 10 minutes, 16 seconds. In the mile, Quallio broke the school record of 4:45, set 31 years ago by Tony Horton, then broke his own mark in lowering his personal best to 4:41.

“He’s steady all the way. He’s a solid, strong runner,” Zama coach Mitch Moellendick said. “Not just because of his times, but because he’s a good, hard-working kid who’s a lot of fun to be around.”

Quallio has been running since he was 12. He says he prefers distance races, suggesting they present more of a challenge than sprints.

They’re an “honest” battle of the brain saying, “Go, go, go,” and the body screaming, “Stop, stop, stop,” he said, calling distance running “mind over matter.”

“You get a feeling of being able to achieve … I can push myself further than I think I can go.”

How much further would he like to go?

“I would really like to run (the two-mile) under 10 minutes this year,” Quallio said. Of the mile: “I want to get into the 4:30s.”

The Kanto Plain league two-mile record is 9:38, set 23 years ago by American School In Japan’s Jack Gallagher. Kyle Carrick of Christian Academy In Japan set the mile record with a 4:28 seven years ago.

“He definitely has the potential,” longtime CAJ coach and Kanto Plain meet recorder Craig Eby said of Quallio.

Zama’s distance standout before Quallio’s arrival, Kevin Blackburn, said he and his teammates couldn’t be happier to have the sophomore aboard.

“It’s helping the team and myself personally,” said Blackburn, whose personal bests in the mile and two-mile are 4:57 and 10:34.

“We push each other. His pace continually helps me strive to keep up.”

Keeping up with Quallio, rather than running at the front of the pack, is just fine with Blackburn.

“There’s always going to be somebody faster and better, and I know it’s going to be the same with him,” Blackburn said.

“I know I’m not going to get as good a ranking, but I’d rather improve personally than worry about getting individual glory.”

Despite standing out, Quallio feels the greater team glory means much more than individual achievement.

“I’m all about team,” he said.

All about the team, he said, doing well in the Kanto Plain league championship meet May 12, at Niiza Park in western Tokyo. And all about doing well in the Kanto Plain invitational on May 19.

The Kanto Plain league and invitational mile and two-mile races should generate a ton of excitement, Moellendick said. Aside from Quallio and Blackburn, runners such as CAJ’s Blake Bannister, ASIJ’s Sam Krauth, Graham Will of Nile C. Kinnick and Kubasaki’s Matt Coon — the reigning Far East cross-country champion — have each run miles in under 5 minutes.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Moellendick said.

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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