Kenneth Bowling got cut from the middle school basketball team. The coach told him and the other boys, “I hope you guys come out and run.” Bowling did, and it turned out to be a pretty good deal for everyone.
Growing up in the country, most of Bowling’s running consisted of wandering around his family’s land. He didn’t know he was actually good at it until he began to compete against other kids in 7th grade track.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m pretty good at this. Maybe this was a good thing, not playing basketball.’ [In] seventh grade, I realized, ‘I’m better than some of the eighth graders, and this is kind of cool.'”
By the time Bowling reached high school, he was not only beating other freshmen, but upper-classmen, as well. In the fall of his freshman year, he qualified for the state cross country meet. Then he surprised himself––and almost everyone else––by winning a medal.
“I remember being young and small. When you get up to the state meet, if you qualify as an individual, they put you in a box with a bunch of other individuals that qualified. They put me at the starting line with other guys that were 17 or 18 years old. I remember thinking ‘What am I doing? I don’t know what I’m doing up here.’
As he neared the finish, “I remember a friend of mine from church was standing there and had been counting, and she said ‘You’re 28th and you need 3 more [to qualify as all-state].’ I wasn’t really understanding what she was saying to me.
“So I was like ‘Okay, dumb freshman, just take off. We had just climbed Firehouse Hill, and it’s the worst hill of anything around the area, and I picked off like eight people.”
Bowling finished with his all-state designation, in 18th place. After the race, he discovered it’s not normal to catch that many runners down the stretch on the state course in Jefferson City.
“They said ‘Catch people,’ so I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go catch them.’ I didn’t know any different.”
The spring of his freshman year, Bowling was back on the track, and back at state again. This time, he finished 8th in the two-mile run, securing yet another all-state medal.
As a sophomore, Bowling shaved 20 seconds off his cross country time at state, finishing in 14th place at 17:06. He was the state runner-up in both the mile and two-mile runs in the spring. And he was not even close to peaking.
During his junior year, Bowling staked his claim as the best distance runner in Missouri Class 3. He finished third in cross country (improving by 26 seconds over the previous year’s time), then swept the mile and two-mile at the state track meet that spring. Despite his success up to that point, his first state championships caught him by surprise.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, there are going to be people here that I was going to run with, and they’re going to beat me, and that’s okay because I have another year,’” Bowling recalls. “I remember talking to a guy that was coming in with the exact same time, and I was like ‘Cool, he may beat me here, but this is going to be a race.’ Then when I won both [the mile and two-mile races], I was like ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was going to happen.’”
With two state championships under his belt already, Bowling proceeded to dominate the distance events as a senior. In the fall, he finished 26 seconds ahead of the runner-up, capturing his first cross country championship. In the spring, he won the two-mile race by 16 seconds. His closest call was a four-second victory in the mile. For the year, he completed a sweep of all three distance events. And although four of his five state championships came in track and field, he looks back more fondly on his time as a cross country runner.
“I love cross country because you don’t run the same thing. Lots of strategy can go into that. [In track] everyone runs and turns left. I’ve always been a big hill runner. I enjoyed that because it was something I focused on.”
Bowling teaches math and coaches cross country and track at Springfield Glendale. To this day, he enjoys the challenge of a steep hill.
“Even with my team this year, they’re like, ‘Man, Coach, even when you’re tired, you still run those hills hard.’ I’m like ‘That’s just me. It’s what I trained myself to do for so long.’”
Uphill or downhill, all those miles have taught Bowling a lot about what we can all accomplish if we really want it.
“I’ve learned that even if I don’t think I can, I probably can. Thinking I’ve done the best I can is sometimes not true,” Bowling says. “That’s something that I want my athletes to understand. If you think you went as hard as you can, you probably didn’t. It’s cool to think that I can push myself to where I have no energy to do anything else. It’s that mind-over-matter piece, where you convince yourself it doesn’t matter that you’re hurting. It’s not going to kill you.”
- Cross Country – 18th
- 3200m Run – 8th
- Cross Country – 14th
- 1600m Run – 2nd
- 3200m Run – 2nd
- Cross Country – 3rd
- 1600m Run – 1st
- 3200m Run – 1st
- Cross Country – 1st
- 1600m Run – 1st
- 3200m Run – 1st
- 1600m Run – 4:17.64
- 3200m Run – 9:16.83