A special student-athlete: Groce has worked his way into leadership role for West Forsyth cross-country

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

Colby Groce came into an awkward position this season for the West Forsyth boys cross-country team.

He’s the lone senior for the Titans after six of seven top runners graduated, and he’s making the most of it, both as an integral part of the team and as a leader.

After running three years at Clemmons Middle School and now in his fourth year at West Forsyth, Groce had always started at those respective schools by being one grade behind his peers.

“The grade above me, those guys had already moved to West,” Groce said. “And so I knew a good amount of them. They ended up being my best friends throughout all of high school.”

When Groce first trained with the runners for the Titans, he quickly saw this was no longer middle school.

“I remember my first-ever practice with the West team,” Groce said. “They split us up into two groups. They said that the faster runners go in this group and the slower runners go in one group.

“So, I had always been one of the fastest runners on the team in middle school, so I wanted to go with that fast group. But they took off, and I had no clue what was happening. I was blown away by the difference in speed from middle school to high school.”

Groce got a taste of reality in his first cross-country race for the Titans.

“It hit me like a truck,” he said. “It was weird because coming out of middle school, I had been either the leader or in second place on every single cross-country race, and my first race of my career, I was in the back of the pack.”

One thing made things easier for Groce to adjust to competing in high-school athletics.

“To me, sports is the best way to get involved,” he said. “Athletics has always been my life, and so coming into freshman year, I was able to make friends before I even stepped foot on campus. It made that first day of freshman year, even though we were online (because of COVID-19), having friends on an athletics team helped me adjust to high school.”

Coach Nathan Newsome of the West Forsyth cross-country team, as well as the indoor and outdoor track-and-field team, saw what it was like for Groce to be the lone junior last year.

“Occasionally, you’ll get that where you get a group that it seems like everybody graduates,” Newsome said. “But I think probably the biggest adjustment for that is you go from being just one of the people that kind of follows along, and suddenly you’re thrust into a leadership role.

“And all of a sudden, everybody is looking at what I do. Everybody’s looking at what I’m going to say and how I react to things. It makes you more reflective. It makes you more aware of what you do.”

Groce, who is up for the Morehead Scholarship, is intelligent and thinks of things more analytically.

“I could see where that could be processed as heightened, maybe anxiety is not the right word,” Newsome said. “You realize, ‘This is important. This is foreign. I’m not used to having this emotion at this time.’ So, it could take some acclimation, but so far, I think he’s doing real well with it.”
Coming up through high school at West Forsyth could’ve sent Groce’s mind racing about how he fit on a team of mostly upperclassmen. That turned out not to be the case.

“I would say I’m more of an extravert,” he said. “I like speaking in front of big crowds. I’m the MC at our pool, and I’m the head coach of the Special Olympics track team.”

With the Davie County Special Olympics, he was an assistant with Head Coach Parker Prysiazniuk. Groce eventually became the head coach. It allowed Groce to see a whole other side to cross-country and track and field.

“I was able to go out there and see kind of another world of how track works because I’ve always focused on myself, of how to get better with myself,” he said. “And then I stepped into a world of looking at others, obviously with disabilities and trying to share my passion for the sport to those who aren’t as gifted.”

Groce became interested in serving in the Special Olympics because he has a cousin, 13-year-old Thomas Miller of Charlotte, who is on the autism spectrum.

“I’ve lived my life always seeing him, and with kids with disabilities, it’s always harder for them to connect,” Groce said. “My favorite part about Special Olympics is the camaraderie between all the athletes and being able to lead them and show them kind of the day in my life, and also let them experience this sport. That’s always been the best part of that for me.”

A conversation came up between Groce and Newsome about the possibility of getting involved with Special Olympics.

“He and I talked about it. We were on our way to the beach and got to talking. He wants to be the Morehead nominee,” Newsome said. “I was asking him about, you know, (if) you’ve got to take yourself apart, what do you do differently? And he was filling me in on coaching Special Olympics and talking about that. I said those are the types of things that are, that are different. And you can see a different side of the world, too.”
Being able to interact with his cousin more closely has allowed Groce to love running even more.

“It’s always taught me to open your eyes,” Groce said. “Seeing him and communicating with him has shown me that it’s not just – I’ve always tried to take a step back now and look at other people’s situations because whether I may be able to just go run the kids on my team, on the Special Olympics team it takes more than just running for them.”

Being a coach with the Special Olympics has also allowed Groce to interact with the athletes one-on-one.

“Everyone of them has special circumstances, and so that’s, being able to navigate, you know, how to motivate all of them, what circumstance each of them has that’s kind of my favorite part,” he said. “I like connecting with the individual athletes. So, my cousin kind of taught … me how to deal with kids on the spectrum and how to communicate with them because sometimes it’s harder than others. Some aren’t as verbal as others, so communicating with them all and keeping an upbeat attitude has always been important.”

Through the first couple weeks of the cross-country season, Groce, who was named a captain, is learning for the first time on a high-school team what it’s like to be the elder statesman.

“Everybody has their strengths,” Newsome said. “You know, Colby’s strength, in my opinion, is he’s very pragmatic. This is what we’re supposed to do. He wants the team to do well. He can see the big picture a little bit. I think that’s what’s helped him is knowing that maybe the 5K is not what he enjoys doing the most. He may not feel that’s his strength. He understands the importance of him doing well at it in order to help the team.”

Cross-country is not his favorite season. He prefers running indoor and outdoor track and field, but he’s no slouch in cross-country. On Aug. 31 at the Norman Trzaskoma Invitational, which is the Forsyth County Championship, Groce ran 11:12.4, which was a personal record.

“I’m a blatant competitor,” Groce said. “Losing to me is the worst thing on planet Earth. For example, I’m probably the biggest college football fan in the world. Just the competitiveness of sports. That’s my favorite part. I like it when you don’t know what the outcome is going to be, and you have to works towards that outcome.”

Not planning on running in college, Groce is picking between North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama, and Mississippi.

“Wherever I go to college, I want to continue to interact with kids with disabilities,” he said. “Right now, it’s part of my life. I don’t necessarily want to give that up going into college.”