MONTICELLO — Steve Schroeder is on the fast track in his pursuit of excellence.
A state cross-country championship is the latest step on his journey to success, but it's not the end of the path for the Monticello High School senior.
There's more for The News-Gazette Male Runner of the Year to achieve, athletically, academically and in his personal life.
There's a lot on his plate and that's where we dig into his story.
Runner in tune
There was a time — several years ago — when Schroeder's interest was to become a professional musician.
"That was my first desire in sixth, seventh and eighth grade," Schroeder said.
His quest included guitar lessons when he was 9 years old and voice lessons — which he still takes — at 14.
Shortly after the family relocated from Ohio to Monticello when Schroeder was a seventh-grader, he entered a local talent show.
"The first thing I did was a guitar solo, 'Crazy Train,' " he said.
In retrospect, he's not sure how he found the nerve to perform.
"When I look back, I don't understand how I could do that, get up in front of my peers and put myself out there like that," he said. "I'd just moved here."
Music is still a passion.
"I want to do something with it in college," Schroeder said, but he has developed other tastes.
His plate includes a big helping of food-related projects.
"As I've gotten older, my career aspirations have evolved," he said. "I'd love to be more of a dietician. Possibly I could get a doctorate and become a pediatric dietician.
"I want to help people get into good habits of eating well. That's one of the more important aspects of life."
Senior year can be a time when some high school students put their classroom work on cruise control.
Schroeder, however, continues to seek challenges. A fourth-year Spanish student, he is in his first semester of studying French.
"French is not that similar and is a challenge for me," he said.
He wishes there were more than two language choices at Monticello.
"I wish they offered a wider variety," Schroeder said. "I'd have taken German and Russian."
His courseload includes AP Calculus, physics, World Literature and chamber choir.
Did we mention he's a third-year Madrigal and is the section leader for tenors for this weekend's three performances?
"You have all summer to look over the music and memorize over 20 pieces, ranging from 2 to 4 minutes," he said.
The mindset that improvement is always possible permeates Schroeder's academic endeavors just as it does his running.
Though he ranks among the top 20 percent of the senior class and scored a 28 on his ACT, he's not satisfied. In February, he'll take the ACT a fourth time, hoping to score a 30.
A lineage of champions
Distance running is not an active part of his family's repertoire. Schroeder's mom ran recreationally in college. His dad focused his attention on soccer and swimming.
Yet, the bloodlines can be traced back to an Olympic champion, Beals Wright — a paternal great uncle — was the 1904 gold-medal winner in tennis.
Running around — specifically being on the move — was a routine part of Schroeder's early childhood. By the time he was 12, he'd lived in four states. Born in Alton, he grew up in Indiana, near Indianapolis, in Michigan, near Detroit, and in Ohio, near Cleveland.
The move to Monticello was the second time he'd been an Illinois resident.
"My dad was a financial advisor for National City (now PNC) and we always lived in an area for three or four years,' Steve Schroeder said. "At first (upon arriving in Monticello), I thought we'd follow that pattern."
His parents, however, committed to the area until their three children had graduated from high school. Clare is a freshman and Meggie is in seventh grade.
Neither sibling has shown a penchant for distance running and Steve Schroeder is not about to encourage them to follow in his footsteps.
"I'm pleased to see my sisters doing what they love," he said.
Clare is in band and soccer. Meggie is a cheerleader and a track sprinter.
Long (distance) goals
Steve Schroeder, meanwhile, is looking to increase his distance. He believes he'll adapt well in college for 5K and 10K races. He doesn't plan to stop there.
"One day, I want to run marathons and ultra-marathons," Schroeder said. "I want to run 50- and 100-mile races.
"I'm probably going to keep my fitness up in general. I'll probably run, bike and swim the rest of my life."
As for colleges, there'll be no decision soon. He has applied to the Naval Academy and has visited Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University. Illinois, Purdue and Iowa State are other schools he plans to check out.
"Running can take me where I want to go," he said. "It has taught me hard work, success, failures. I've used it as a tool to become a better person."
He has specific criteria, in addition to the chance to minor in music.
"I want a medium to large school with a good running program that will challenge me," Schroeder said. "I want runners better than me so I can work up to them."
Running from golf
Monticello coach Jeff Butler recalls Schroeder's entrance into cross-country. He was holding an informational meeting for eighth-graders and Schroeder wandered by.
"I said, 'Can I help you,' and he said, 'I think I want to go out for golf,'" Butler recalled. "I'm glad he didn't find that meeting. God was directing him the right way."
Schroeder wasn't trying to be funny. His interest in golf was legitimate.
"My dad had me playing golf since fifth grade," Schroeder said. "I practiced quite a bit and got OK. I never had the patience, like for other sports that had too many rules.
"Golf is a great release for me and I enjoy the quietness of being on the course. When I looked at what high school golfers do, I decided I might be more successful running in the long run."
A good nine-hole score for Schroeder, he said, is "45 to 50; nothing special."
A family affair
Butler has been Schroeder's coach throughout high school. His father, Chris, has helped but without being pushy.
"My parents do a good job of not interfering," Schroeder said. "They can give advice when it comes to training and competing."
It's not always what the teen — born on Sept. 11, eight years before the terrorist attacks — wants to hear.
"We butt heads quite a bit," he said. "We have different ideas on resting and the value of training."
In the end, it's all good.
"We usually morph my ideas with theirs to make a better idea," Schroeder said. "We find a way to compromise and I get a lot of good ideas from my parents."
He also gets incentives, too. Schroeder and his dad engaged in small bets prior to some races.
"It used to be every race, when I was a sophomore," he said. "That's what got me motivated.
"My junior and senior years, not as much, but when we had bets, I usually had my best races."
The offer before state — when Schroeder was clocked in 14 minutes, 28 seconds for 3 miles — was for a dinner at St. Elmo's, in Indianapolis, "if I won or the team won."
That trip will be upcoming soon. Had neither event happened, there wasn't payback on Schroeder's end.
"What's left is for me to deal with the fact I won't get what I would have gotten," he said.
A record pace
Schroeder has direct connections with this year's boys' cross-country coach of the year, Unity's Dike Stirrett, a Monticello graduate. Schroeder is chasing Stirrett's 1,600-meter school record (4:26.9), which was set more than four decades ago in track. Schroeder's best mark is 4:27.03, though his goal for spring, he said is "sub-4:15."
"Coach Stirrett has a lot of wisdom," Schroeder said. "I hope to ask him some advice about running collegiately."
Butler would expect nothing less. His star runner has always been interested in the learning process.
"He always wanted feedback," Butler said, "always wanted to know what purpose does this workout serve. He likes to analyze things and is very much a student of what's going on."
After one more semester in high school, it will be Schroeder who is moving on ...to a high-level collegiate running program.