Four-time state qualifier Cohen Frost, a Fairfield senior, will compete in the Division III OHSAA State Cross-County Championships Saturday. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
Four-time state qualifier Cohen Frost, a Fairfield senior, will compete in the Division III OHSAA State Cross-County Championships Saturday. (HCP Photo/Stephen Forsha)
There was a time in middle school when Fairfield’s Cohen Frost didn’t know how to properly practice as he was getting his start in the sport. Fast-forward six short years later, and the FHS senior is now a four-time state qualifier and will run his final high school race on the biggest stage of them all this Saturday.

Frost has had a very successful senior season and four-year career at Fairfield High School as a member of the cross-country team. During his time with the Lions, Frost has raced the past two years at the state level, and back during his freshman year he qualified for state, but a stress fracture sidelined him the first time he qualified for state with the Lions as a team.

This season, the Division III OHSAA State Cross-County Championships will be very different for Frost, as he’ll be the first race of the event at 9 a.m.; he qualified as an individual, as the Lions didn’t qualify as a team; and the event will be in front of very few fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, plus the venue is different for the 2020 race.

The 2020 state races will be held at Fortress Obetz in Columbus for the first time, and Frost earned the ticket to the race following his ninth-place finish at the Division III regionals last weekend with a time of 16:55.9 at Pickerington North High School.

That time kept the Fairfield boys cross-country streak alive at 10 consecutive years of having at least one runner qualify for state.

“It’s a weight on my shoulders to keep it going, and I’m hoping that next year they can keep it going, too,” Frost said of the streak. “The one goal I really had for myself was just to make it back to state, and I still have one goal left to do, and that’s to place Top 10 at state.

“I’ve just go out there and run my race. I’ve got to sell out, and I’ve got to push until I can’t push anymore.”

Also earlier this season, Frost set his PR time of 16:18 in a race at Unioto, and he was asked if he could beat his PR time at the state race this Saturday.

“I feel like I can, because I’ve heard that (the course) is flatter, and I feel like I’ve got more pressure on me to go out and show off the school and continue what our school’s been able to do during state,” Frost said.

Speaking of earning his PR time this season, Frost did so while running with a spike in his kneecap, but the senior continued and finished the race with his best ever time to date.

“I’d have to go with Unioto as my best race,” Frost said when asked about what was his best racer this season. “One, because I ran 16:18 as my best time of the year, but within the first two minutes of the race I had a spike in my kneecap and had to run most of the race with one leg.

“It was harder to push through, but the more I pushed, the better I got. I just felt the encouragement and felt like I needed to finish the race. Your confidence falls and everything just drops, but you realize you’re still in the race and you haven’t quit yet, and that’s what starts driving you.”

That determination and heart to finish a race under grueling circumstances began years earlier. FHS head coach Raymond Friend spoke about Frost and the talent he saw in middle school, but he also saw a runner who needed some guidance in the sport.

“In seventh and a little bit in eighth grade, I had a kid that had a lot of talent and had no idea how to practice. He would come here, he might do one hard practice a week, and he’d do fine in the race,” Friend said. “Then, his freshman year, he finally saw ‘Hey, you know what? I’m pretty darn good at this,’ and he was the only freshman on that state-qualifying team. At regionals, he had a stress fracture, and he wanted so bad to run with those guys. Of course, he couldn’t run.”

Friend continued:

“Ever since, he has put in the most effort, more miles than anybody else, and now, this last year, he’s not just the best runner on the team, but he’s become a true leader in helping bring those younger guys and get them enthusiastic about the sport. Now, he’s running mid-16s. I’m sure he has the ability to run in college. To go from that kid that really had no idea how to practice and what the sport was about to where he is now is pretty cool.

“When he was a freshman, he had juniors and seniors that were giving him encouragement. Now, he’s doing it to the younger guys. It’s a process.”

Frost also spoke about his early years in the sport, and how past teammates have helped him grow and improve as a runner, saying many have been a part of making him the runner he is today.

“I started running in seventh grade because that’s when it was offered to us, and I just thought it would be fun to try because I’ve never tried anything like it,” the senior said. “Once I started running, I realized I was pretty good at it, so I figured I’d keep doing it. Then, coming into high school, there was a transition, and I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how good I could be, so I was kind of slacking off a little bit.

“Coming into my sophomore year, I kind of realized, well, I can step up and actually be a good runner. That’s when I started actually putting in the work and realizing my potential. During the offseason, I started putting in a lot more miles. I started getting together with the guys because they would always go out and run in the mornings, and I would always blow it off because I didn’t think it was that important. Then I realized that it is important, and that’s what’s going to make me better. I started running with them and putting in a lot more miles.

“They were the ones that helped me realize my potential and realize how good I could actually be,” Frost continued. They were the ones who pushed me and encouraged me to put in the work and put in the miles to see what I could actually do.”

Being that Frost has been a part of much success in his time as a Fairfield cross-country runner, his senior season has been different. With all the COVID-19 regulations in place, a lot has changed for the senior runner.

“Mostly, it’s just the adjustment to the COVID. That’s really messed with us,” Frost said of the biggest challenge this season. “It’s messed with our team chemistry a lot, too. It’s given a lot more chances to hang out and stuff, but it’s kind of — we haven’t been able to go off and do the fun things we would normally do with the team.

“The training was different because we had to adjust to the meet schedules. We’d have meets scheduled throughout the week, and we wouldn’t be able to do certain speed vs. distance training that we needed to.”

Having accomplished a rare feat of being a four-time state qualifier, it hasn’t escaped Frost’s thoughts about how important the accomplishment is for the program and himself.

“It’s a big deal for me. Being able to step up and be a successful runner for our school and one of the top athletes we’ve had for a while is a lot of weight on your shoulders,” Frost said.

Frost was also asked about if the freshman version of himself would ever believe he would qualify for state all four years of high school.

“I would’ve never thought it. Coming into my freshman year, I just thought it was going to be hard to win a race. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it to state the four years that I did,” he said.

This trip to state will not only cap off a great and successful career at Fairfield, but Frost said things will be different as he’s never made the trip to Columbus without his teammates. He also knows he has a goal to achieve as well.

“I just know that I’ve got to go and sell out. I can’t let anything hold me back,” Frost said. “I know my body’s going to be hurting, but I’ve just got to push through it. I’ve got to go out there with the top guys and show them what I can do.”

Coach Friend described Frost as “Mr. Consistency” this season.

“This year, he’s been Mr. Consistency. You look at every race, he is at the top of the race, 16 minutes all year,” Friend said. “He’s led us throughout the whole year, been our top leader. He’s the captain and the leader, so we’ll miss him next year.”

Frost had many to say thanks to as he embarks on his final run as a Fairfield Lion.

“There’s a lot of people, like Mr. Friend. He’s been a big part of me stepping up my freshman year coming into my sophomore summer. He’s the one that told me, ‘You’ve got to start picking it up, because you could be really good at this sport.’ That’s when I started pushing,” Frost said.

“Another one, Kesia McCoy. Throughout the track season too, she kept pushing me. She kept telling me, you can really do something great in this sport. There’s a few more. The seniors I’ve had through the past that have really encouraged me to keep pushing. Ethan Davis, Brandtson Duffie, Bennett Hodson, Austin Setty and a lot more. They showed me what I can do and kept encouraging me and pushing me.

“Also, thanks to my family and friends for their support.”