New Oxford's Aaron Gebhart is the frontrunner of 10 finalists in the USA TODAY High School Sports' 'The Inspiration' contest.
The winner of the fan-vote driven contest, which ends Tuesday, will be featured in an article published on the USA TODAY High School Sports' website. They will also win the Inspiration Trophy and an in-school presentation, and earn a 1$,000 donation to his or her school's athletic department.
At the encouragement of his homeroom teacher, the Colonials' junior distance runner submitted an essay showing how he battled through adversity as a child, growing up with absentee parents.
Click the link for more details on his story.
"This was my opportunity to show people what my life was really like," Gebhart said.
Prior to moving in with his aunt and uncle in seventh grade, Gebhart struggled to sleep at night and would miss two or three days of school per week, he said. Since moving in with positive role models and joining the cross country and track and field teams, his life has turned around drastically.
Gebhart joined the middle school cross country team in seventh grade, but didn't have any devotion toward running. But after breaking the New Oxford varsity record in the 3,200 during his freshman year of track and field, he dedicated himself to the sport.
"It's so nice to have something that I'm passionate about and can look forward to every day," he said.
Gebhart was encouraged by his homeroom teacher, Lori Althoff, to submit his story in February. Not one to call attention to himself, Gebhart said he was happy to share his story to show that people can overcome difficult odds to get the most out of their life.
"Anybody, if they really believe in themselves, can do it," he said. "You have to find the right path and be with the right people, focus and you can do anything you want.
"If you come from a tough situation, you have to live with it, but you can also make yourself better from that."
New Oxford track coach Colby Franz said he's seen other athletes face the challenges of a difficult home life, but few have come through with the manners, focus and resolve of his top runner.
"A lot of times, you know the kid has potential, you can see it in their eyes, but they fall into the patterns of the lifestyle they were accustomed to," Franz said. "Some people use that as an excuse, but for Aaron, it drove him."
In the last year, Gebhart has torn up the turf, paved or unpaved. He placed third last fall at the District 3 Class AAA Cross Country Championships and 14th in the PIAA championships in the same classification.
At the District 3 Class AAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University, Gebhart placed eighth in the 3,200.
Gebhart made it through the first two rounds of fan voting in the USA Today contest, which began on March 24. As of Friday evening, he was leading by nearly 40,000 votes. To support Gebhart, click here and vote!