More than four miles separate Rashaun Tanner’s Tennille home from the space where he and his Washington County Golden Hawks teammates train in nearby Sandersville.
With few twists and turns, the route to practice is fairly straightforward and provides a scenic path through which to travel. But unlike some of his teammates — and most other Georgia cross country runners — Tanner doesn’t take an automobile through the short drive. Instead, he employs the most basic mode of transportation known to man: his own two feet.
“Yeah, a lot of times this season, he runs from his house to our practices a few miles away, and then goes through our exercises,” Washington County head coach Carlos Hope said. “He’s just a hard worker; he’s a go-getter. He’ll train on his days off, or be in the weight room at times you wouldn’t expect him to be. That’s just who he is.
“And when (his teammates) see him training like that, it’s just motivation for them to train even harder, too.”
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The extra, out-of-practice work paid off for the sophomore runner this season, as he shaved a full minute off his personal best 3.1-mile times from the year before. Finishing with a Middle Georgia-leading 16:43 in November’s GHSA Class AAA championship at Carrollton, Tanner has been recognized by The Telegraph as this year’s All-Middle Georgia boys cross country runner of the year.
Helping the Golden Hawks to an 11th place finish at the meet, Tanner finished 12th overall, and secured his place as one of the state’s rising cross country stars.
“Some people are surprised sometimes to see good runners come from our area,” Tanner said. “Some of them probably don’t think people in the more rural parts of Georgia can do what we did this year because they may not think that South Georgia or Middle Georgia has the same training as people from the metro (Atlanta) area. But Washington County does have great runners.”
One of the team’s youngest runners, Tanner proved to be one of its biggest leaders, as well, Hope said. While he was setting personal goals of his own, he also nearly helped the Golden Hawks reach a collective team dream.
“He’s like another coach,” Hope said. “He’s well-respected by his peers and teammates, and he carries that in and out of races. His own goal going into the season was to reach the mid-16s (minutes). Now that he’s doing that, his goal is to get to the bottom-16s as much as possible.
“It’s like how at the beginning of the year we wanted to be a top-10 team. Well, he wanted to be a top-10 runner in the state. We both nearly did that this year.”
Of all the ways that Tanner — a co-captain along with two seniors — has impacted Washington County this season, none seems to be as important as his work ethic, and the way it rubbed off on his teammates.
A runner with the AAU Baldwin County Jets track and cross country team, the young distance runner has learned the nuances of competing successfully in the sport. He has attended running camps at Furman and Georgia, where he learned various stretches and techniques to enhance his flexibility and pacing. At the camps, he was also given diets that will help him maintain proper conditioning. That level of dedication has extended to his teammates, Hope said.
“He started out (running from his house to practices) by himself, but by the end of the year, he had a few of his buddies meeting him halfway, or somewhere almost there,” Hope said. “It greatly paid off for them, too. By the end of the season, those guys were cutting off their times, as well.”
Rashaun Tanner’s father, Robert Tanner, believes that the support of two of his teammates, fellow sophomores Eddie Burden and Carson Massey, really made it possible for his son to see success this season.
“Having them there really helped him out; I just know it,” Robert Tanner said.
Robert Tanner said there was no definitive childhood moment when he and his wife Deborah saw Rashaun’s flashes of long distance brilliance, but he did remember how Rashaun Tanner never seemed to grow tired.
“The very first time he ran in the sixth grade, he went out and ran well and finished well ahead of all the other kids,” Robert Tanner said. “And then when he was growing up, he just never really got tired. He was always running around, playing all day. So now we’re seeing this is truly the area he needs to be aimed in.”
As his son espouses dreams of becoming an Olympian, Robert Tanner is keeping him grounded.
“(The Olympics) would mean a lot to us; you always need to set your goals high,” Robert Tanner said. “For us, though, we nor him would ever take credit for it all. It’s God-given. We’re just blessed that Rashaun has found talent at such a young age. But (the Olympics) sure would be a great accomplishment for him and this community.”