LYONS — Paul Roberts has never sought out the spotlight, but it's something even he can't run from.
It doesn't matter that he would prefer to remain in the shadows, just another runner in the masses. But whenever the quiet and shy senior from Lyons is at a meet, there is a buzz that surrounds him.
Coaches will point to their charges that he is someone to emulate. Other athletes will stop to watch him compete. On occasion, a female athlete or two has slipped him her number.
The media will flock to him afterward, hoping to snag a quote that will help them document his place in history. This is something that Roberts doesn't enjoy, but has learned to live with.
When an athlete amasses the type of running resume that Roberts has, all the wins and records, people want to be part of it.
"I've kind of always dreaded the attention and having to talk to people after races," Roberts said. "I never really wanted the spotlight but a lot of people have helped me to get where I am and it's given me a platform to thank them and share with other kids what drives me and why I run."
He may be quiet. He may be shy. But Roberts is a true competitor, pure and simple. He has done things no one else has done. He is the first male athlete in Colorado to win four cross country state championships, and Roberts has one more state track and field state meet before his career is done.
Roberts has already cemented his place as one of the best prep runners from Colorado. But to describe him as simply that would be selling him short.
"He really has a healthy love for competition," Paul's father and coach Mark Roberts said. "It doesn't matter if it's Nike Nationals or whiffle ball on a family vacation. This is a kid, like any athlete, who would love to be in the Olympics some day but he acknowledges what a long shot that is. Is running important to him? Yes. Will he take it as far as he can go? I think he will. Is it the most important thing to him? No.
"The thing I've probably been most pleased with watching him over this past year or so is to see him come to the place where if he broke his leg tomorrow and he could never run again, he would be sad, but life would go on. He's not a one-dimensional person."
One of the greats
Paul Roberts' prep career in both track and cross country has been something to behold.
After the Colorado track and field state championships this weekend, it will be over. The Lyons senior will undoubtedly end his career with a bang. Still, in his final days of competition as a Lyons Lion, one of Colorado prep running's most decorated athletes can hardly tell where the time went.
"It all went too fast, but I guess that's how it always works," Roberts said. "It's kind of weird that my senior season is almost over but nothing lasts forever and I guess you have to move on eventually. I'm excited for the end of the season and I'm ready to go."
Alan Versaw started coaching track and cross country at The Classical Academy in the year 2000. He has been the primary Colorado writer for Milesplit.com since 2006. Versaw has seen it all and is widely considered as one of, if not the, authority on prep running in Colorado.
"I think I would categorize Paul as one of five to 10 of the very best guys we've seen in that time," Versaw said. "We're talking about Bret Schoolmeester, Brent Vaughn, Cerake Geberkidane, Connor Winter, guys like that. For cross country, we've seen a few out of Colorado who have qualified for Nike Cross Nationals, and Paul's done it twice now.
"Being in 2A probably has even dampened the times just a little because when the state meet comes around at the end of the season, he's never really had anyone there to push him."
Soon he will join the list of Colorado's all-time great prep runners as a name in the record books. Then he will continue his running career at Colorado State University-Pueblo.
A lot of attention is paid to the one who crossed the finish line first but rarely is any glory bestowed on the last one to leave the stadium.
Paul Roberts is both.
"His career is definitely historic," Longmont High head track coach Kevin Akers said. "There hasn't been anyone who has won four straight cross country titles. In terms of total individual track titles, he has to be right up there with any other track athlete in Colorado history. But you really wouldn't know how successful he is because he's such a humble kid.
"You don't really see too many top-flight athletes both competing and working at the same meets, putting up hurdles and running times, things like that. That kind of willingness to give back to the sport is hard to find."
Roberts' seven track titles are indeed impressive. But he could have eight.
As a freshman in 2013, Roberts was competing in the 3,200-meter race at the state championships and looked to be the clear winner down the stretch. That's when Roberts signaled for trailing teammate Marcel Such and let him pass so that the upperclassman could win the state title.
Even after the race, Roberts wouldn't admit to letting his teammate win.
Family and faith
Paul Roberts comes from a big family. It's the type of family that has to set several tables together length-wise to eat dinner together.
Mark Roberts, 20-year track and cross country coach at Lyons, his wife Kim and seven of their 10 children — Paul, Sarah, Isaac, Katie, John, Elizabeth and David — live on a farm off of Highway 36 between Lyons and Boulder. Andrew, Melissa and Miriam have since moved away but often return. The children are homeschooled and the family is devout Christian. They milk goats, raise chickens, make whatever they can from scratch and pray together before every meal.
Work ethic and faith are staples of the Roberts household. When it comes to distance running, however, the Roberts family shares a nearly monk-like dedication to the sport.
"I guess I always just grew up running," Paul Roberts said. "The biggest reason I ran was because of my older brother Andrew and my older sister Melissa. It's just been competing with my siblings and more than anything, looking up to my older brother. We come from a really competitive family and anything we do, we want to do it as well as we can."
Family is important to Paul Roberts, so much so that being closer to his sister Miriam, who won several track and cross country titles in high school, was a major force behind him forgoing Division I offers to join her at CSU-Pueblo next season.
Everyone in the Roberts household runs. In their home, it's often difficult to separate faith, family and running.
"Running is a microcosm of what our lives are about," Mark Roberts said. "It takes hard work, it takes consistency and it's about what you're doing when nobody is watching. It takes fellowship and accountability. It's hard to do it as a loner. You learn how to lose and how to deal with failure. I love that it's about solitude and perseverance. My children don't run with headphones in their ears because sometimes it's about just being present with someone else."
On the edge of a town with a population of just over 2,000, there is Lyons Middle/Senior High School.
Out behind the school, beyond the football field and track, there are empty fields and rolling foothills. Trails run through the fields, which are still recovering from the devastating floodwater that washed through the town nearly three years ago. It's quiet. There is only the wind and the tallgrass, faint chatter from a nearby dog park, the occasional rattlesnake.
Paul Roberts trains here. It's a simple, natural backdrop that suits him.
He runs between 8 to 11 miles each day, on average. The Lions coaches describe Roberts as a "self-starter" and he often manages his own practices. Fellow senior teammate Joel Such is one of the few who can keep up as a running partner.
Sometimes they talk. More often, they just enjoy the beauty and run.
"I couldn't ask for a better teammate," Such said. "It's been a great ride these past four years and it's definitely sad that I've only got one more meet running with him. He's pushed me for four years and it would be really cool to finish one-two in the distance events one more time."
Now an assistant coach at Lyons Middle/Senior High School, Jeff Boele started as the middle school track coach in 2010. Paul Roberts was in sixth grade.
After their first track season together, Boele sat down under the scoreboard on the Lyons track and meticulously wrote out year-by-year benchmark predictions for Paul and what he would, or could, accomplish. The last year of Boele's sketched-out progression ended with Roberts breaking the 3,200-meter all-classification record as a senior in 2016.
"To achieve at a really high level, you have to apply yourself to your craft," Boele said. "That's the stuff that you don't see, that doesn't come up in the post-race interviews and the articles. I've been very fortunate to work with Paul for seven seasons. I see what he does on a daily basis and the culminating impact that his consistency and his dedication to his craft has had.
"It's really easy to get caught up in the meet records and to forget that, yeah, to be good at anything you have to have talent, but Paul's dedication to working is second to none. There are athletes who are dialed in. Paul has taken that to another level and he's worked on his craft better than anyone that I've experienced in 16 years."
The record is 9:05.89, set by Smoky Hill's Brent Vaughn at the state meet in 2003.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on myself," Roberts said. "Really, I'm just excited to go down and have fun. The record has been my goal for a really long time so I'm just going to go out and try to get a PR, and do everything I can to help the team win. If I get the record, that's just a cherry on top. It's a really tough record and Brent Vaughn is obviously a really, really great athlete.
"I'll just do my best. That's all I can do."
That's all Paul Roberts does - his best.
• First male to win four state cross country championships in Colorado
• Set a cross country course record at the Rim Rock Classic in Kansas (15:10) and at the Colorado state championships (15:33)
• Finished sixth in the USATF Junior Men's Cross Country Championships in February 2015
• Represented the United States in the IAAF Cross Country Championships in China in March 2015, finishing 59th out of 118 competitors
• Placed 18th at Nike Cross Nationals and was named a third-team All-American as a junior
• Placed 11th at Nike Cross Nationals and was named a second-team All-American as a senior
• Placed 5th at Footlocker Nationals and was named to the All-American first team as a senior
• Was one of 12 runners all-time to break the 15-minute mark on the Midwest Footlocker regional course in Wisconsin, a course that has been in use for 35 years. His time of 14:57 is the best-ever by a Colorado athlete
• Represented the US on the junior mean's team in the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country Challenge in Scotland in January, finishing 14th out of 90 runners.
• This past spring, ran a 9:13 in the 3,200, the sixth-fastest time ever run in the state of Colorado
• Has won seven state track titles, and has helped lead Lyons to four cross country and two track and field team titles
• Named the BoCoPreps.com Cross Country Runner of the Year four times
• Named Gatorade Colorado Cross Country Athlete of the Year for 2015
• Named the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame High School Male Athlete of the Year for 2015