NAUGATUCK — Normally, the best cross country runners can inspire their teammates to championships or better performances by dropping times as the season unfolds. It’s an indication they aren’t relying just on talent but hard work.
Toward that end, Naugatuck High seniors James Clark and Caleb Brito have been inspiring the Greyhounds two-fold in a big way. En route to dropping their times dramatically over the last year — we’re talking minutes, not seconds — they have also dropped about 110 pounds between them.
“So between them, they have lost, like, an entire eighth-grader, or something like that,” Naugatuck coach Bill Hanley joked.
Clark lost 50 pounds over the past few years, and Brito lost 60 in just more than a year’s time. During that dramatic weight-loss process, they gained an awful lot of respect from teammates and coaches while, in their own ways, helping the team win four straight Naugatuck Valley League championships.
“James has been on the team four years, and everyone has just been so impressed with how he has stuck with it and worked hard,” Hanley said. “He is in the shadows of other guys, but they are so inspired by him. He encourages them and they encourage him. There is a lot of respect for his improvement up and down the team.
“They feel the same things toward Caleb, but they just don’t know him as well, because he moved here last year.”
As a freshman, it took Clark more than 50 minutes to run a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) race. Now he’s finishing races in less than half that time, a little more than 20 minutes.
“When he started, he was barely finishing a 5K, and now he is down almost to a 20-flat,” team co-captain Grady Beasley marveled. “Come on! You are starting that bad, and you still want to keep going? That’s great determination. It shows that if you have heart, you can do it.”
Clark takes that to heart.
“It is good I can become a source to motivate my teammates to become better,” Clark said. “I hope they all push themselves harder like I am pushing myself every day. I think we are all doing a really great job this season.”
Brito’s time drop hasn’t been quite as dramatic, but it’s impressive since it has come in just a year. He’s gone from running races in 30 minutes last season to finishing last week’s NVL championship meet in a personal-best 23 minutes.
“A lot of times when I first started, I was walking until I found my real inspiration and motivation and had a reason to keep going,” Brito said. “Then I knew what to do. First I wanted to be part of a team, and when I started losing weight, that made it better. Now I just love to run.”
Brito’s weight went from 220 pounds at the end of last season to 160 now.
Clark’s self-discovery through running is similar. He wanted to hang out with the right crowd of people, and at the same time he felt he had to prove something.
“I weighed like 180 pounds as a freshman, and now I am down to about 130,” Clark said. “I did it so I could run better, because I wanted to be there for my team. I felt like if I didn’t lose this weight, then I was letting my team down.”
Neither Clark nor Brito runs fast enough to finish among the team’s top five and score in meets, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play an integral role in the Greyhounds’ success.
“They have been an inspiration to other guys on the team,” Hanley said. “They look at them and tell themselves, ‘If these guys are working this hard, then I have to work that hard, too.’ You could never script all of that for the two of them and our team.”
While they have been inspiring others, the sport certainly inspired them to live healthier lives.
“Sometimes I will break out a bag of chips or some ice cream for old time’s sake, but I just feel lethargic the whole day,” Clark said. “So eating right and running is the best way to get better at what I love to do.”
Clark struggled to run a single mile when he started. He now runs 5 to 7 a day. As proud as he is of that, he may be prouder of Brito’s progress.
He remembers watching Brito not even run the whole loop during practices. Instead, Brito would just run sprints back and forth as hard as he could across the main field at Hop Brook until he developed better stamina.
“He wants to push himself to the limit,” Clark said. “He is just booking it now, and it makes me really proud of him. I used to be there. He is doing better than I was, and I am like, ‘Wow!’ Just, ‘Wow!’”