Lukis Padu of Sun Valley is not your typical middle distance runner. Padu stands 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 185 pounds racing in size 14 spikes. Despite looking like a basketball star Padu has had great track success with a 2:00.18 PR in the 800m and 2:39.46 for the 1000m.
Any time you see Padu on the track he certainly stands out by his size, but also from his mother screaming in the stands to cheer on her son. His father will be locked in at the finish line ensuring Padu knows his splits as the two are the best support system a child could have.
Padu did start off pursuing a basketball career growing up. As a freshman he earned a spot on the Varsity Basketball team. A typical basketball "punishment" Padu had to go out to the football field one day and run suicide drills. The track coach saw Padu running the suicides effortlessly and approached him said that he had a great stride and should consider coming out for the track team in the spring. At the time, the coach envisioned Padu as a jumper or hurdler.
Once basketball ended Padu tried out for the track team where he would fall in love with the sport.
He'd start off running the 800m. His first race he ran 59.34 falling over the line in 30 degree weather bloodying up his knees and elbows. He continued to compete in the 400m throughout the season and would drop his time down to 55.82.
Padu admits he didn't really know what he was doing. He'd just get on the track and run as fast as he could. No strategy, no game plan, no blocks. He would just leave it all on the track.
At the time he was still playing AAU Basketball with his Charlotte Dragons team that was one of the top teams in the country at the time.
He was running the 400m as a freshman and says he wanted to be a sprinter because it was, "easier and less running." However, Padu went out for the cross country team and fell in love with mid-distance and distance running.
He knew at the time that he was really starting to enjoy running more than basketball. He'd play his sophomore season for Sun Valley, but even though his times weren't super fast yet, he would go on to focus on running and end his basketball dreams. He says "I knew if I stayed dedicated and put more times in track, my times would drop."
Padu says, "It was a risky decision to stop playing basketball and focus solely on track. Of course the basketball coach wasn't happy about my decision to stop playing basketball and tried to persuade me to stay on the team, but I had to follow my heart and put 100% into running."
Since that decision, Padu has had success on the track. As a sophomore he would place 5th in the 800m at the 3A Midwest regional, just one spot out of the state meet, running a PR of 2:02.27. As a junior his region would become the strongest in the state. He ran a seasons best at the time of 2:00.41 and would finish 8th in the region. Though it's tough to make the state meet, it makes him train as hard as he can and stay focused throughout the whole season.
"My favorite part about track is all the attention you get when you are running, the crowd is screaming and getting your Adrenalin pumping. I love getting a PR and training with my team. I also like that track is an individually sport and I do not have to depend on someone passing me the ball or having to play good defense to win. Everything is all on me or my relay team. I also like feeling the pain that goes through my body, as track is both challenging mentally and physically. no pain...no gain!"
Padu would go on to have success in cross country (5000m) despite being a 400m/800m runner. He qualified for the NCHSAA 3A State Championships as a junior and senior. Since his basketball days, his goals were to earn a college scholarship in sport. He had kept that goal even through his transition to track.
Recently Padu has committed to the University of Mount Olive to continue his track career next fall. He was looking for a school with his major, Exercise Science, and wanted to find a good fit with his studies as well as a good track program. As a junior he spoke with Mount Olive coach Matt Van Lierop who told him his times were good enough to walk on. He took it as motivation to work harder than ever before in order to earn a scholarship.
A big goal for Padu on the track this year is certainly to make the outdoor state meet individually, but also qualify for New Balance Nationals. He's eyeing the flashy book bag you earn for qualifying for the meet. He also wants to bring their 4x800m relay team to the state championship.
Padu still holds the stereotype as a basketball player when people see him on the track. He's certainly used to the questions by now, but would like a t-shirt that says, "Yes, I'm 6'5" and I do not play basketball."
Though Padu took a big risk dropping basketball for track, it's certainly paid off. He's had a great mindset with his outlook of the sport and shows great confidence in himself. Though Padu could have had a successful basketball career, he decided to do what he loved. He's enjoying running track and will be an athlete to keep an eye on throughout the 2019 outdoor season.