Going into high school, Todd Beamer senior A.J. Chopra always thought he was a baseball player. After all, he’d played the sport for 10 years.
After being cut from the baseball team his freshman year after there was doubt the tall, lanky athlete was what the Titans needed, Chopra re-evaluated his options and turned his focus to cross country.
Not only did Chopra discover a love for the new sport, he also saw potential for the future.
“I saw then, I could run in college, as opposed to just playing baseball for high school, and I sort of just found a new love for the sport,” Chopra said.
Still, the Titan runner, who also competes in track and field, had a great deal of ground to make up before gaining any sort of recognition in the state let alone by college coaches.
Then he finished third at the 4A state cross country meet Nov. 4 in Pasco, Washington, completing the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 15.8 seconds, setting personal, Todd Beamer and Federal Way Public Schools records in the process. It was not Chopra’s first trip to state, however. Last year, he placed 57th as a junior. Entering his senior season, he had no idea he would blossom so much.
Chopra wasn’t always interested in running. He actually took up cross country his freshman year as a way to condition himself for baseball. Chopra said he likes the independence of the sport — if he does well, it is because he practiced hard and his performance reflects his work. His success is only determined by him.
Throughout high school, Chopra continued to get better, and over one summer, he made his greatest improvement by shedding 3:41 off his time.
“And for the 5K, that’s a lot in a year,” he said. “Most participants take two minutes off their time in the space of four years.”
He also competed at state for the first time his junior year, finishing 47th with a time of 16:40.2. He wasn’t content with that and pushed himself even more over the summer.
When he’s training for competition in the summer, Chopra said he usually runs 60 miles a week, July through September. Now that he’s in the off season, he’s cut back to 55.
During the season, he also runs during his personal time, taking morning and late night runs.
Still, Chopra said he hadn’t gotten much attention from any college coaches until after state and admits he was a “dark horse.”
“In respect to me, and in respect to the other runnings in the state, I kind of came out of nowhere,” he said. “But I had the time of my life running for Todd Beamer. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Now, Chopra is looking to finish out his high school career by competing in track one last time this spring.
He also submitted applications to attend four different colleges — ones where the coaches showed interest in him after state — Washington State University, the University of Portland, Gonzaga and Boise State.
Chopra said, while he isn’t planning on receiving a scholarship from one of those, he hopes he can prove himself to one of those coaches and earn a slot on their team. Just receiving a few looks, however, made him happy and proud of his accomplishments, and an offer to run on one of those teams would be the best possible outcome.
“It just felt kind of good being acknowledged by Division 1 programs,” he said.
Chopra has already toured two of the campuses — WSU and the University of Portland.
He will also visit Boise State and Gonzaga in February.
He said he will likely make a decision later in February, unless he receives an offer.
So far, he has been impressed with WSU and its program under coach Wayne Phipps and thinks he would like going to school in Pullman.