Junior Aakash Arumugam collapsed and sprawled out on the ground, exhausted after running a race. It was one of then-sophomore Aakash’s first cross-country races after COVID-19 quarantine, and he had given it his all. While he lay resting, Aakash thought about all the training he had done — all the 5 a.m. runs, after-school practices and diet modifications that had led up to that race. He didn’t even know that he made it through the qualifiers until his father, Arumugam Sivasubramanian, ran up to him cheering and saying “congratulations.” “It was so surprising, and it’s a good feeling to see your hard work paying off,” Aakash said. “It was such a special moment.” Aakash’s passion for running began at the early age of 7. “My dad and I would go on runs together,” Aakash said. “One day, he noticed that I wouldn’t really break a sweat, even after I ran around 6 miles, and eventually he realized that I was really talented at it.” Still, it was not until a trip to Golden Gate Park that his father decided to enroll him in the local running club. At the park, young Aakash spotted a group of marathon runners. “He saw them running and just directly went to them. He was asking if he could race with them,” Sivasubramanian said. One week later, Aakash started his competitive running journey. Over the years, Aakash has practiced with several running teams and clubs. “Because we had to move and there were a lot of changes in our lives, we constantly had to move to different teams,” his father said. The first club Aakash joined was a sprint team, but with his strength in distance running, he transferred after a couple of years. The new club practiced about 45 minutes from the family’s home. This was clearly a far larger commitment and created some problems for the family. Despite this, the club was still very good for Aakash’s development in running. “We used to drive him all the way there for practice, but it was worth it because that team provided very good training for him,” Sivasubramanian said. Aakash attributes a great deal of his success as a runner to the unconditional support he receives from his parents. His parents provide help for him in every possible running-related aspect. While his mother helps him maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, his father drives him to most of his practices and races all around Sacramento and beyond. “He really cheers me on and is the emotional support,” Aakash said. “It’s not just about the physical running — it’s also mental.” Last year, Aakash achieved one of his greatest accomplishments yet, placing 11th with a time of 16:35.3 in the San Joaquin Sectionals, the qualifier race for the CIF State Cross Country Championships. He competed in that statewide meet on Nov. 27, 2021, and ran a time of 16:15.6 which was a personal record at the time. Sivasubramanian was filled with pride when he learned of his son’s final results in these races. During his freshman year, many of Aakash’s races got canceled due to COVID-19. As a result, he did not begin competing in high school races until his sophomore year. “As a parent, I didn’t really know what his true potential was until then,” Sivasubramanian said. “I’ve always known that he likes running and is good at it, but I didn’t know how he compared to other athletes.” Aakash trains with his personal trainer, coach Anthony Mallory, who has been mentoring and working out with him since May. Mallory has always been impressed with Aakash’s pure athletic prowess and ability to keep “his mind and body relaxed” while running long distances or exerting himself to the limit. This ability to push beyond the point where most people give up Aakash’s determination and focus on his passion have also contributed to his “success in the sport of running and in academics,” Mallory said. “Aakash is really eager to be the best in practices and races. He is extremely competitive and tends to push himself really hard.” Sivasubramanian said that Aakash has always been a “self-propelled, self-motivated person.” “All he needs is some guidance,” Sivasubramanian said. This season, Mallory hopes to help Aakash improve his understanding of his aerobic threshold pace, which will allow him to conserve energy during big races and use that energy later in the race to achieve better times. Aakash is also a member of the Country Day cross-country team, led by coach Joe Hartman. Although Hartman has only known Aakash for a short amount of time, he commends him for his coachability and work ethic. “He trains so much on his own, and it shows because he is one of the fastest juniors in the Sacramento-San Joaquin region,” Hartman said. On Oct. 8, Aakash competed in the Asics Clovis Invitational, his first major meet with the Country Day team. There, he placed 16th in the Men’s 5,000 Meter Varsity – Small race with a time of 16:13.6. With performances like this, Arumugam is on track to improve his times before the end of this season. Moving forward, Aakash is eager to see just how far he can progress in his junior year and beyond, aiming to “go as far” as he possibly can.