Claire Durkin so completely defies the traditional model of the high school athlete it is essentially impossible to find areas where she is like everybody else.
It certainly isn't when she's running.
The 2007 Division I state cross country champion has only added to her resume since concluding her career at Scioto Down in October with a 28-second blitzing of the big-school field.
Three weeks later in Wisconsin, the Worthington Kilbourne senior burst on to the national scene by winning the Foot Locker Midwest Championship, dominating an elite regional field by 41 seconds and breaking a 17-year old course record in the process.
On Dec. 13 in San Diego, Durkin placed fifth in what was her first-ever trip to the Foot Locker national final.
“I'm glad I was able to finish in the top five,” Durkin said of the All-American performance. “I'm really happy with the way my cross country career turned out.”
All of these accolades made Durkin the obvious choice as the Huntington Bank/Ohio High Runner of the Year in girls cross country.
But in terms of athletics, Durkin's unusual talent is not the most unusual thing about her.
For starters, she is a female distance runner who has improved as she has progressed through high school.
In many instances, the onset of puberty can reduce a state champion-caliber 14 or 15-year-old runner to an above-average talent by her high school graduation.
After not running as a freshman, Durkin had modest success as a sophomore, qualifying for the '05 state race and finishing 40th.
But Durkin improved her time by nearly two minutes when she returned to Scioto Downs in 2006, placing third. She knocked yet another 50 seconds off that time this past fall on her way to the title.
Melanie Williams, Durkin's coach at Kilbourne, credited some of the progression to good genes.
“It really is unusual, with girls,” Williams said. “They hit that growth spurt, start to mature and it takes a toll on the body. But (Claire's family) seem to genetically have thin, runner's bodies.”
Durkin also doesn't seem to relish the spotlight the way some elite athletes do.
Despite being a two-time state champion (she won the 3,200-meters in track in the spring), Durkin shies from media attention.
With a growing number of blue chip seniors taking to national television to announce to the world via baseball cap which college they will be attending, Durkin does not like to openly discuss the schools she is considering because, as she simply put it, “I don't think it's the whole world's business.”
And it is still possible she may not run in college at all. An outstanding student, Durkin has applied to a number of elite academic institutions including MIT.
Even after winning the Midwest Foot Locker race, Durkin had not told her parents whether she wanted to run in college at all.
“Running is definitely a priority, but I want to keep it fun,” Durkin said.
“I want to enjoy running as a sport, not as a thing to get me money for a scholarship. And how many people can even make a living as a professional runner?”
Where Durkin may stand out the most is in her training. Between 60 miles a week on the road, interval training, recovery runs and competing for Kilbourne's swim team in the winter, there are few high school distance runners in the country that train as hard as she does. It is an area of her sport in which Durkin takes a great deal of pride.
“I really think it is a reflection of how much work I put in,” she said when asked about her yearly time-drops at the state race. “Instead of keeping the same regimen, I've tried harder every year.”
Williams pointed out that Durkin is on the road in any kind of weather. As recently as December, she was making her own sneaker path through fresh snow on the Kilbourne track.
“She works and trains harder than any runner I've had,” said Williams, who has coached the sport since 1991. “She's very self-disciplined and you have to have that to be good.”
When asked about the ceiling for her best pupil, Williams seemed to sum up perfectly the dichotomy inherent in Claire Durkin.
“I would think she could be an Olympic-caliber runner,” the coach said. “But I'm not sure she even wants to do that.
“The way Claire puts it, it’s that she doesn't want to go to college and get run to death by a coach. She doesn't want to be just another disposable athlete.”