Thousands of miles and an untold number of worn-out sneakers later, the Cherokee High School senior’s destiny was fulfilled Wednesday afternoon when he signed a letter of intent to run cross country at Division I Murray State University, which is located on the western end of Kentucky.
Just messing around, Kirkpatrick decided to run a 5K event during a sixth-grade outing at Rogersville City School, and that decision changed his life.
“I was going to play baseball my sixth grade year, but for sixth grade we always went to 4-H camp for a week,” Kirkpatrick told the Times News Thursday. “They had a 5K there, and I thought, ‘I’m just going to run it and see what I can do — just mess around.’ The track coach was there that week, and she walks up to me (after the 5K) and goes, ‘Hey, you need to quit baseball. We’ve got a jersey for you.’”
He added, “So I decided to join track instead of baseball just to see what it was like, and I fell in love with it then.”
Apparently cross country loved him too, because Kirkpatrick went on to become the most successful runner in Cherokee’s history.
Aside from breaking virtually every school cross country record in the books, Kirkpatrick was the first Cherokee runner to qualify for the state meet, which he made all four years, earning All State honors his sophomore year.
Kirkpatrick also earned the IMAC (Inter Mountain Athletic Conference) championship three years in a row.
As for the Cherokee track and field team, Kirkpatrick is a three-time 1600 meter conference champion, and a three-time conference champion in the two mile.
That success wasn’t an accident like his impressive sixth grade 5K debut.
His work ethic is relentless. Two days a week he does a speed workout, and the rest of the week he’s doing mileage. On easy days, he’ll run 3-4 miles, but on the heavy days he’ll run 11-13 at a time.
Kirkpatrick has already compared his times to the times his future teammates are running at Murray State, and he’s around mid-pack.
That gives him something to chase.
“I’m obviously going to have to work for that top position on the team, but that’s what I was wanting,” Kirkpatrick said. “The guys there will help you get to that spot and help you push. That top spot is what I’m going to be fighting for.”
For his signing ceremony Wednesday afternoon at Cherokee, Kirkpatrick was joined by his parents, Rob and Lisa Kirkpatrick; grandparents Edith Peeples, Terri Bolick and Gaither Bolick; brothers Matthew and Grey Kirkpatrick; and coaches Adam McElroy, Tara Harrell, Michael Bowman, Chad Laster and Kasey Houck.
“This means the world to me,” Kirkpatrick said. “Putting in the work since sixth grade, I’ve always dreamed of going to a Division I school. Finally being able to get there and accomplish that just means everything to me.”
He added, “I want to thank the Lord first, for giving me the talent and blessing me with these opportunities. I also want to thank all of my family for supporting me all the way, and my coaches who have been there since the beginning. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’m doing.”