Five years ago, Paul Roberts made his final strides into an unprecedented fourth state cross country title only to look back onto the final leg of the course.
Former Lyons teammate, Joel Such, had come into view and Roberts found enough something, somewhere inside his tired body, to bounce around and holler him home.
For this look back, all these years later, the transformation from fastest 5Ker to lone-man cheering section just beyond the finish still isn’t difficult to reason.
“You kind of learn that your team is your family,” Roberts said this past week, his collegiate career now over after the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of his senior outdoor track and field season at Wyoming.
The long-distance runner’s close-knit bonds are what he’ll cherish. Now, though, he’s looking forward to a future where to what capacity running will be on his life is unclear.
“I love running, I love the team aspect, I love training, I love the discipline of all of it,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of weird that I’ve been in it 22 years and now I’m like ‘I don’t know’.”
Following Lyons, Roberts became an All-American at both CSU-Pueblo and Wyoming, where he spent his final two years, helping lead its cross country team to the 2018 national championships for the first time in 32 years.
“Paul is absolutely tough,” Cowboys cross country head coach Scott Dahlberg told Wyoming’s athletic site. “When I was recruiting Paul, his dad (Mark Roberts), who is very honest, had said Paul has an ability to go to places pain-wise that few do. That’s very much the truth.”
And perhaps it was even more cemented as Roberts battled through injury at Wyoming, which included a partial calf tear in 2019, only to return to his old form when it mattered most.
What turned out to be his final collegiate race earlier this year at the Mountain West Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he won the 3,000-meter race. Coupled with a second-place finish in the 5,000 the day before, he scored 18 of his team’s points and was awarded the event’s “Outstanding Performer”.
“I tell everyone, ‘Why would I run again?’” Roberts cracked. “I won my last race.”
Roberts, graduating with an economics degree, plans to spend some time traveling to spend time with family in Red River, New Mexico, as well as the small Central Asian country of Tajikistan, where his aunt and uncle do missionary work.
He said serious training is on hold for now.
“I’d rather focus my energy on working and spending time with the family,” Roberts said. “And just seeing where things go next. Obviously, I’ll keep running for fun and keep in shape. I think right now I’m taking a little break just to let everything settle down. And then if I get excited to start running and training for something again, then I probably will.”
The high school running icon is still the only four-time individual boys’ cross country champion in state history.