Josh Gher is now in his sixth year at Sunrise Mountain High School.
The senior might go running from the Peoria campus on a daily basis. However, it’s not because he’s hopelessly struggling in the classroom. Instead, he’s off on another workout with the Mustangs cross country team, leading the defendi n g D e s e r t W e s t R e g i o n champions.
"I just love running, everything about it. The runner’s high is something that is hard to describe," Gher said.
Gher, who moved to Peoria from Pennsylvania at the age of 10, was first drawn to soccer. As a fifth-grader, he easily won a onemile run. By the time he reached junior high, Gher’s confidence had grown as teachers praised his ability as a runner.
Determined to get the most out of his talents, the now 18-year-old decided he would look for some guidance.
"He asked me if he could practice with the high school team," said Mustangs coach Torrin Lattie, now in his ninth year at Sunrise Mountain. "He wasn’t that fast, especially compared to the high school athletes, but since he was motivated and seemed serious about getting better I let him work out with us."
While the Mustang admitted the initial reaction from team members was a bit awkward, he eventually was able to earn a level of respect from his fellow runners.
"I guess the girls team took me in first because they thought I was a cute little seventh-grader," Gher said. "It took a while to get the guys to accept me, but once I showed that I was willing to work and that I could run the same distances they could they took a liking to me. I mean, as a seventhgrader, I didn’t have anything in common with juniors and seniors in high school other than the fact that we loved to run."
The passion has never dissipated. After running as the No. 6 man on the Mustangs team as a freshman, Gher has been the team’s top athlete ever since.
"I like to win and when I feel the pain while I’m practicing I figure I’m getting better," he said. "I like the pain. It inspires me to work harder."
Believing in the no-pain nogain motto, Gher has turned his commitment in cross country into two straight Desert West Region titles. At state, he followed a 32nd-place showing his sophomore year with an 11th-place finish last year.
Lattie said his top athlete’s desire has never been called into question.
"He’ll do whatever I ask of him," the Mustangs coach said. "He’s a real stickler for our training regimen. He never questions the workouts I come up with, he just says, ‘Yes, sir,’ and away he goes. He has really been a coach’s dream."
Now the veteran of the bunch, the senior said he has tried to stress the commitment required to some of the younger runners.
"I think of it as my duty," he said. "A lot of them, when they first start out, aren’t ready for the pain of running long distance. You have to be willing to push yourself through it. You also have to decide what your priorities are. Are you going to have a soda at lunch or are you going to drink water? Are you going to go to the football game the night before a big meet or are you going to get your rest? It isn’t for everyone but I think the sacrifices are worth it."
After putting in nearly 100 miles a week during the summer, the Mustangs team captain is looking to finish his prep career with a strong final kick.
Gher, who aspires to run at the college level, said he hopes the sacrifices result in a third straight region title and then possibly an even bigger win come the state meet, which will take place the first week in November.
"I think I can challenge for state," he said without hesitation. "I’m not the favorite, there’s a guy at Paradise Valley that’s beaten me throughout his career, but I’d say I’m one of maybe five or six guys that I know of that are capable of winning it. It would be a wonderful dream to win state. I mean just thinking about it ... I’m speechless trying to describe what it would mean."
With Gher leading the way and a trio of seniors Kyle Blake and Clayton Poston along with junior Quinn Yost not too far behind, Lattie said his squad not only should be considered the favorite in the Desert West Region, but should be a contender for the state title at the 5A Div-II level.
"I would say Carl Hayden is the team to beat, but if we can find someone in our fifth spot that can close the gap and try to come close to our No. 2 through No. 4 pack, we’ll be a factor," he said. "Individually, Josh is off to a slower start than usual because he didn’t run track this spring, but that just means he’ll be peaking right about the time of regionals and state. He’ll have a shot at winning it."
GHER AT A GLANCE
Region meet performances
2004 Desert West Region Champion:
16:32.64 at Thunderbird Paseo Park
2003 Desert West Region Champion:
16:29.46 at Thunderbird Paseo Park
State meet performances
2004 5A state meet at Anthem: 11th place, 16:27
2003 5A state meet at Anthem: 32nd place, 17:20.81