School: Upper Merion
Cross Country, Basketball, Track & Field
Favorite athlete: Rajon Rondo
Favorite team: Boston Celtics
Favorite memory competing in sports: A teammate motivated me by saying ‘catch the carrot’ and trying to catch all the runners in front of me. I was able to catch everyone.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: During a scrimmage race, I tripped a teammate and literally caught him before he hit the ground. The teammate was surprised – he expected to hit the ground, and the next thing he was on this feet!
Music on iPod: Queen (‘We Will Rock You’), everything is rap music.
Future plans: Going to college and running
Words to live by: ‘Leave everything on the track.’
One goal before turning 30: I want to run in college and work in a communications field.
One thing people don’t know about me: I can dance and rap.
By Mary Jane Souder
Christian Sanders recently found himself on the sidelines after suffering a slight knee injury that prevented the Upper Merion senior from running with his cross country team. During his brief stint on the DL, it wasn't uncommon to find Sanders timing splits, filling the ice bucket and just generally doing whatever was needed.
“It was driving him slightly crazy,” coach Lynda Newhart said. “He wanted to be there for the team. Even though he was injured, he was still a team player.”
In truth, doing the little and not-so-little things for the team is nothing unusual for the first-year runner.
“Ever since day one, he would say, ‘Oh, the ice buckets need to be filled? I’ll go get that,’” Newhart said. “He wants to do what needs to be done.”
Sanders brings a decidedly different perspective to the squad than most of his teammates. The Viking senior is a newcomer not only to the cross country team but also to competitive sports in general.
“As someone who’s never been a part of this, he’s been a great addition,” Newhart said. “He enjoys running with the other guys, talking with the other guys. He really wants to see the team do well, but he also wanted to be a part of that too.”
Sanders transferred to Upper Merion shortly after the start of his junior year, moving from Philadelphia to West Conshohocken where he resides with his father.
"It really wasn't easy," Sanders said. "But my brother went to Upper Merion last year, so I adapted from them."
Playing competitive sports had never been part of Sanders' life when he lived in Philadelphia, As a matter of fact, with the exception of basketball, Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia didn't have sports teams of its own.
"The school didn't have enough money to pay for team sports in our school, so it was a partnership with other schools to play sports," Sanders said. "The other schools sometimes would start trouble with us, so I didn't play sports. I went to school and went home.
"(When I came to Upper Merion), I really didn't know I could play fall sports. I was like, 'Just get me through school, and I'll play basketball in the winter."
Last winter, in his first stint in organized sports, Sanders experienced success playing for the junior varsity basketball team, and around that time, his chemistry teacher - who happens to now be his cross country coach - suggested he consider giving track a try.
"I told her I could run fast," Sanders said. "I went out and made some new friends. I really wanted to win races, and I had fun doing it."
Newhart remembers those initial conversations with Sanders quite well.
"We were talking about track, and I said, 'I think track will be good for you,'" she said. "I'll never forget what he said. He said, 'I want to set some records.'
"In the back of my mind I'm thinking, 'Did you ever run track before?' He said, 'No,' but he doesn't want to put limits on himself."
With no limits to hold him back and an unfailingly positive mindset, Sanders went out for track and found a home in the 400-meter run, and it didn’t take long to realize that breaking a school record wasn't nearly as unrealistic as it might first sound.
Sanders' best split in the 4x400 relay last year was 50.4. The school record is 49.93. Unfortunately for Sanders, that split time could not be used as a district qualifying time, and he missed out on districts by less than a tenth of a second. Late in the season, Sanders ran the opening leg of the 4x800, and in his first attempt, he ran a 2:01, although he admits he got off to a shaky start.
“For the 400, I do a full-out sprint,” he said. “For the 800, when they said, ‘Ready, Set, Go,’ everybody ran to the line and bent over to start running.
“I was still behind, and they’re like,’ Yo, Chris, move up to the line.’ I moved up to the line, and they all started before me. I ran up and stayed with them and kept the pace until the last lap. I got boxed in, but I came around and gave everything I had.”
Beyond his success on the track, Sanders enjoyed his new teammates.
“I like the track team,” he said. “Everyone on the track team was good friends with me.”
Sanders opted to go out for the cross country team this fall in order to develop stamina and improve his times in track. He began training with the team during the summer months, and at least three days a week, Sanders had a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call in order to take two different buses to the King of Prussia Mall. From there, he made the mile-plus trek to the high school on foot.
“It wasn’t really a big deal because I liked doing it,” Sanders said. “It was worth it.”
Sanders reaped immediate benefits for his efforts as evidenced by his 10th place finish at the Central Bucks Invitational a week into the season. His time of 17:08 for the 3.1-mile course was 30 seconds faster than the time posted by a teammate who was Upper Merion’s top runner last year.
“The two races we’d had before that were scrimmages, and his job was to stay with the group of runners,” Newhart said. “At CB East, he went through the mile at 5:06.
“As a kid that’s never run cross country, he just really didn’t have a clue. When he was finished, he said, ‘That was the most painful thing I’ve ever done,’ but you just saw this raw talent there. The guys he was behind at CB East – all but one were state qualifiers last year.”
Sanders admits he was driven by a singular goal.
“Ms. Newhart said they were giving out medals for the top 20, and I never won a medal or trophy,” he said. “I really wanted to try my best to win something. I worked for it, and I felt good about that.”
Sanders admits that first invitational was a learning experience that he will not soon forget.
“I ran across the (finish) line, and afterwards, I couldn’t even walk,” he said. “My teammates said I ran fast, but it wasn’t anything to me. I didn’t understand what I was actually doing. It was really fun though. My team was really hyped.”
In his first race back against Wissahickon, Sanders left his mark, finishing first and leading the Vikings to a 26-29 win over the Trojans.
“On top of working extremely hard at practice, he’ll give 110 percent,” Newhart said. “He’s always positive and never talks negatively about people. Rarely do you see him without a smile on his face – even during tough workouts, and he’s always encouraging his group to help them rise to their potential.
“He has a great sense of humor, and he’s one of the politest athletes I’ve ever coached. He really appreciates the program we have here. For somebody who’s never been involved with cross country at all and is still learning the sport, he really is a breath of fresh air.”
Sanders credits his dad – a motivational speaker – for teaching him the value of a positive attitude.
“My dad never lets me get down on myself,” he said.
Ask Sander his goals, and the first is more immediate – to break the school record in the 400 meters. The second – earn a scholarship for college. Both are clearly within his grasp, but for right now, Sanders, who plans to major in communications, is enjoying his senior year at a school that has become his home.
“I love this school, seriously,” he said. “I really love this school.
“If (people) would have seen where I grew up – it’s totally different. Some of the kids don’t understand how good they really got it.”
Sanders understands, and he never takes it for granted.