By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
No matter the obstacle, Missouri Military Academy senior Bryson Powell has surpassed it.
Powell encountered some more Saturday morning during the Class 2 state meet at Gans Creek Cross Country Course in Columbia. Battling illness for more than a week and then chilly, windy and even rainy conditions at state, Powell placed higher than his 21st all-state medal a year ago to finish 10th. The senior was 11th after 4,000 meters but passed another to crack the top 10 with a time of 17:18.2.
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Out of all the obstacles Powell has dealt with in his cross country career, he said Saturday’s weather didn’t faze him at all after his first two years were spent in Alaska.
“It felt like home,” Powell said. “My first two years of running were in Alaska so the muddy course, the wind, the weather it all felt like home, I did a lot of winter running so it’s fun out here.”
About a week ago, Powell felt ill all week prior to the district meet, where he soldiered on to a seventh-place finish, which is where he placed a year ago. Breathing was still an issue at state, Powell said, but being mentally tough is what has got him to this point.
“I was still pretty sick,” Powell said. “Lungs felt a little messed up, and I was just coughing and hacking. It was more of the same (preparation) — try to be mentally tough out here.”
Head coach Ryan Nowlin said he expected Powell to finish at least in the top 10 at state at the beginning of the season and felt he could have even been top 5 if he was at 100 percent. He said Powell was about 80 percent and was on pace with the runners who finished in the top 5 this year and has even beaten three of the runners that finished ahead of him Saturday.
Nowlin said it is impressive, but still in character, that Powell was able to fight through the adversity to cap his career with a top 10 finish.
“He has learned to persevere through any type of adversity from the time he was a little kid to now,” Nowlin said. “Bryson Powell thrives on adversity. He’s one of those guys where he has to feel like he has a challenge. When he has a challenge, he rises to the occasion and overcomes that. If, for some chance, he fails to overcome that adversity or that challenge, he beats himself up pretty hard about that and he works 10 times harder and that challenge is nipped in the bud and not an issue anymore.”
When COVID-20 rolled through the country two years ago, during Powell’s sophomore year at South Anchorage High School, he finished 23rd out of 39 runners at the Alaska state championships with a time four seconds slower than his Saturday time.
A season ago at MMA, Powell sustained an injury during wrestling season and noticed he started his track season feeling slower. Some training over the summer led to Powell making it back on the cross country podium in the fall.
Pertaining to the weather, that has never derailed Powell’s career at MMA, which has been the “most decorated” for a Colonel, Nowlin said. Ever since Powell debuted for MMA as a junior, Nowlin said he has typically won a medal and finishes his career with about 20 medals not counting district and state meets.
“Given where he is from — Alaska and he spent time in Colorado — he’s in that state (of mind) where, ‘It’s cold? Great, let’s run.’ While Missouri kids may be out there in long sweats, gloves and earmuffs, he’s loved it. For it to be cold and rainy, even more so because he’s used to running in soggy conditions. I knew he would do well Saturday.”
Nowlin said MMA is losing Powell and two more of MMA’s top seven runners to graduation but is optimistic for next year’s Colonels as the younger guys and incoming freshman bring much potential. This year’s edition of the MMA team was “probably the most successful cross country team” in the school’s history, Nowlin said, as the Colonels were regularly in the top 5 or at least “middle of the pack” at meets after being in the bottom 40 percent of the standings last year.
Powell, of course, has been a big reason for that success, and like every other cadet on the team, has done well despite MMA’s demanding schedule. Nowlin said the boys usually have physical training in the morning, and then have drill practice and march among other tasks that have them “on their feet for hours a day.” Competing at a high level with a busy schedule like this shows that Powell will be successful in anything he sets out to achieve in the future, Nowlin said, which actually won’t be competitive running.
“He has the resiliency and focus to really zone in on whatever goals he has in his life,” Nowlin said. “I’ve had multiple colleges reach out to me about having him come run for them. Last year, that was his goal — to go run somewhere in college. Now he’s decided to focus his talents and enlist in the Army. He’s going to serve his country.”
The only thing that will prevent Powell from medaling next year is graduation. He said he was sad it was his final cross country race but is happy to end on such a high note.
“I’m a little bummed that this was my last race for cross country,” Powell said. “I’m sad to see the sport go but finally got top 10 at least.”