Growing up in Putnam County, Aaron Withrow dabbled in the traditional sports for a young man — baseball, basketball and football.
It wasn’t until he reached the eighth grade that Withrow tried his hand — and legs — at track. He’s certainly made up for lost time.
Withrow capped a stellar career at Winfield High School last spring by capturing four more gold medals at the state track meet, finishing as the high scorer in the Class AA boys division and helping the Generals claim another state championship.
For those efforts, he has been voted as the winner of the Ray McCoy Award as the male track athlete of the year in West Virginia. Finishing second in balloting by members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association was Cabell Midland weight thrower Gavin Beverage, who won the AAA boys shot put with a record toss of 65 feet, 101/2 inches, breaking the 35-year-old record set by future Olympic champion Randy Barnes, who competed for St. Albans in the 1984 meet.
Weir sprinter Sebastian Spencer placed third in the voting, with Hampshire weight thrower John Hicks and Woodrow Wilson distance runner Chris Barbera tying for fourth.
Withrow didn’t break any records at the 2019 state meet, but missed one by an eyelash, taking the 1,600-meter run in 4 minutes, 17.55 seconds — one-hundredth of a second behind the 26-year-old AA meet mark of 4:17.54 set by Athens’ Mikey Cox in 1993.
That was the lone disappointment for Withrow at University of Charleston Stadium that weekend, as he won all three AA individual distance events — the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 — for a second straight year and again ran on the Generals’ victorious 4x400-meter relay. That made him a 10-time champion at the state meet (including eight individual events), to go along with the state cross country meet individual titles he won as a junior and senior.
“That was a heartbreaker,’’ Withrow said of just missing the 1,600 record, “but it’s always nice to look back and have that ring. The state titles we won as a team in track, I have that to share with my friends. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.’’
Winfield, which also took the AA state crown in 2017 behind two wins from Withrow, has now claimed nine boys track titles since 1997.
That 2017 season is one in which Withrow started to make a name for himself, first around the Kanawha Valley, then the rest of West Virginia. His improvement was remarkable, especially since it was just his third year with the sport.
“I didn’t start track until the eighth grade of middle school,’’ Withrow said, “and my freshman year was the first time I ran distance. I was just getting experience, getting more miles and getting better endurance.’’
Shawn Anderson, Winfield’s track coach, thought Withrow’s development between his freshman and sophomore seasons was “just the maturing process with him.’’
“I think he just put a little more into his off-season training between those two years,’’ Anderson said, “and that kept building as he kept growing. You could see it every year, he was getting better and better. He was pretty thick going into his senior year with his body, and I thought that helped with finishing. Now it can also hurt you if you get too big. You want to have strong, but lean muscle in you.’’
By the time he reached his senior year, Withrow didn’t lose a single race in the state of West Virginia in either the 1,600 or 3,200. It was enough to land him a scholarship to run at the University of Kentucky.
Withrow is grateful for the guidance and coaching he received at Winfield.
“I was very fortunate to have great coaches,’’ he said, “and people around me to teach me the value of hard work, and how important that aspect is. Not just to running, but really in all aspects of life.’’
Anderson said Withrow’s mindset was also valuable in his transformation from a track novice to state champion runner.
“Two things got him [where he is today],’’ Anderson said, “determination and hard work. Aaron was very determined in high school. You could tell that by the way he ran. His work ethic was just tremendous. He worked his tail off. I’m sure in college he’ll reap that benefits of that.
“When you’re in college, they transform you because they’ve got you 365 [days a year]. He is leaned down and strong. He looks lean to me. And he seems to enjoy it a lot.’’
During his freshman year at Kentucky, Withrow is competing in the 3,000 meters during the indoor season and expects to run the steeplechase in the outdoor season.
Withrow will be recognized for winning the McCoy Award during the 74th Victory Awards Dinner May 3 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.