MIDLOTHIAN, VA -- Shoe salesman Anthony D\'Amato is willing and able to demonstrate his own rubber-soled merchandise.
D\'Amato has peddled sneakers at Runner Bill\'s Sports for four years. During that same time, the Midlothian High senior has developed into one of the area\'s elite long-distance runners.
\"Anthony ran in Austin Smith\'s shadows the past three years,\" said Trojans coach Stan Morgan, referring to the former Midlothian star now at Princeton University. \"Now, it\'s his turn in the limelight. He\'s got a great future ahead of him.\"
The 5-10 150-pounder was named the Dominion District runner of the year this winter despite \"taking it easy\" by his high-energy standards.
\"You can\'t peak three times a year,\" said D\'Amato in reference to the cross country, indoor track and outdoor track seasons. \"I cut way back on my mileage this winter. My goal is to peak during outdoors and run a 9:18 [for 3,200 meters].\"
Despite the tapering, D\'Amato won the district 1,000 and 1,600, and he was eighth at the state meet in the 3,200.
He also anchored the Trojans\' 3,200 relay team to district and Central Region crowns and to within one \"long lean\" of a state Group AAA title.
Competing on the banked oval at George Mason University, the foursome of John Terrell, Ryan Witt, Andrew Baker and last-leg D\'Amato ran a sweltering school-record 8:01.48.
That was good for third behind South Lakes (8:00.48) and Colonial Forge (8:00.73).
D\'Amato led with about 50 meters to go, but he got the worst of the bumping and grinding and, eventually, the long leaning at the tape.
\"That\'s part of indoor track,\" said D\'Amato of the late-racing, last-turn shoving. \"You all get it.\"
Missing from the Midlothian lineup this winter was D\'Amato\'s twin brother, Michael, who was nursing a knee injury. Michael is on the mend and confident of a strong spring comeback.
D\'Amato started to come into his own as a runner at Midlothian Middle, where he won the Chesterfield Middle School League title in the 800 as an eighth-grader. Soon after, he began running for Morgan\'s program and selling shoes for Bill Lis, owner of Runner Bill\'s Sports. The store serves as a gathering place for runners.
\"I\'ve grown to know a lot of my customers,\" D\'Amato said. \"I tell them what I know. At the same time, I\'ve learned a lot from them.\"
The D\'Amato twins may be as well known on the weekend road circuit as they are in the high school ranks.
The brothers have been competing (and frequently beating) adults in Richmond Roadrunners 5K events since middle school.
Anyone can have a pair of shoes like D\'Amato.
Sad to say, that doesn\'t mean anyone can maintain his blistering foot speed. With Smith no longer in the mix, D\'Amato won the district cross country title this past fall.
The Trojans, along with Maggie Walker Governor\'s School, have been the top boys distance programs in the area for years.
\"A lot of kids want to be a part of our success,\" Morgan said. \"They see the work habits of the older boys, and they follow that example.\"
The Trojans\' began to feel like state champion contenders in the 3,200 relay when they covered the distance in a then school-record clocking at Virginia Tech.
\"We had a PR [personal record] by 12 seconds,\" D\'Amato said. \"That amazed us and made us feel we could win states.\"
Morgan dabbled with his lineups at the district and region meet. Brandon Miles, Joseph Johnson and Taylor Matthews joined D\'Amato on the victorious run at districts.
Terrell, Johnson and Matthews preceded D\'Amato on the tape-breaking regional performance.
At the state meet, Morgan returned to the same foursome that ran the hot time in Blacksburg.
Midlothian\'s legion of distance runners can\'t wait for the outdoor campaign.
\"We expect to run our best outdoors,\" said D\'Amato, who is pointing to the Southern Track Classic in Dinwiddie, where he ran a PR 9:26 in the 3,200 last year.
D\'Amato plans to continue his education and running at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Training at Rocky Mountain altitude could be a boon to his long-term ambitions.
\"That\'s one reason for going, but there are a lot of positives,\" he said of Air Force. He has received his congressional nomination from Eric Cantor.
As for learning to fly planes, he hasn\'t made a decision.
\"I don\'t know yet, but it might be my calling,\" he said.
There are those who say the shoe salesman already can \"fly\" - on solid ground, no less.