Records are meant to be broken. Coaching yourself right out of the record books is another story.
But that is exactly what has happened at Lincoln High School. Sophomore James Mwuara has broken seven school running records previously held by cross country coach Duane Lee.
“He’s probably becoming our best distance runner in school history,” said Lee, who ran for the Abes in the early 1980s. “I have no problem with the records falling.”
Neither does Mwuara.
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“It feels pretty good to know I have broken some of my coach’s times,” he said. “And I know I can run faster.”
Faster is his focus. Mwuara enters Saturday’s Class 3A state meet seeded second in 15 minutes, 20 seconds, behind Arlington senior Nathan Beamer (15:14).
Mwuara has racked up a slew of wins this season, including the Westside Classic, Narrows League Championship and Curtis Invitational. But he doesn’t consider himself among the state’s best. Not yet.
“Not until I break 15:00,” he said. “Then I’ll consider myself elite.”
Lee said Mwuara’s attitude isn’t surprising.
“He doesn’t even realize half the time what he’s doing in terms of historical significance,” Lee said.
Despite running at state last year — he finished 34th in 16:19 — Mwuara said he is “pretty nervous” about his return to Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco.
“I feel like I have a lot more to prove,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of mindset and to be prepared and run a smart race.”
Among his peers, Mwuara is known as the reserved one. He prefers to let his feet do the talking.
“He’s kind of quiet,” said junior Clay Hunter Douglas, Lincoln’s other state competitor. “But he’s definitely a team leader — and he works really, really hard.”
Lee said Mwuara is one of the humblest athletes he has encountered in 24 years of coaching at Lincoln.
After winning districts, Mwuara stood at the end of the chute to shake the hand of every runner.
“As a freshman, he was going against and getting beat by those guys,” Lee said. “Now he’s beating them, and he just has a great amount of respect for them.”
Lee acknowledged that Lincoln differs from schools such as Bellarmine Prep or Gig Harbor, where 30- or 40-member teams aren’t uncommon. The last runner from one of Tacoma’s four public high schools to take home an individual cross country title was Lincoln’s Paul Ducharme in 1974.
“We get a handful of kids, and every now and then, there’s that special one who comes through,” Lee said. “James has the opportunity to be the most special of all.”
So who would win in a race between the two?
“I’d give him a run for his money,” Lee joked before conceding, but “he’s at another level right now.”
Mwuara, who started as a sprinter in sixth grade, is pretty nonchalant about his newfound celebrity status.
“It feels good to be supported,” he said. “There are so many great things at Lincoln and I want to be part of it, too.”
Regardless of the outcome of the state meet, he already is.
“We know what kind of opportunity is in front of us this weekend,” Lee said, “but no matter how he finishes, we’ll be extremely proud of him.”