TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Wilder Boyden won a team state championship in cross country and two individual titles on the track in the spring.

For three years, Wilder Boyden was cool with being Robin to Cooper Roach’s Batman.

Riding shotgun, providing support and playing second fiddle in Valley Catholic’s endless band of long distance runners suited Boyden just fine. After all, Paul McCartney was just as famous as John Lennon when The Beatles were at their apex, but didn’t have to deal with the same sort of pressure. Scottie Pippen was nearly as superlative as Michael Jordan during the Chicago Bulls’ dynastic run through the 1990s, but never had to carry a long-standing regime. The sidekick sometimes gets the same shine and spotlight as the star, but not the same under-the-microscope scrutiny. And, for a trio of seasons, Boyden was Roach’s right hand man, basking in his role as second bigwig, lending the sort of superior backing that played an integral role on the Valiant boys’ cross country and track teams. To be part of such unified, fantastic programs was sufficient in Boyden’s mind.

To maximize his personal potential, however, and lift both Valley Catholic’s cross country and track and field programs in their inaugural season at the Class 4A level to topflight status, Boyden needed to shift his mental paradigm from that of an auxiliary star capable of assisting to the lead act. The jump from follower to headman had to transpire. Boyden had to bear the torch bestowed on him by Valley greats of the past.

Once Boyden came to grips with this belief and tamed the mental warfare in-between his ears, the Valiant senior’s season became one for the books. In the fall, Boyden captained the Valiants boys cross country to a state championship, taking second overall in the individual standings and leading a quintet of Valley runners to top-30 finishes. Then, after a grueling winter of training, Boyden followed up with an even better season on the track, racing to state championships in both the state 1,500 and 3,000 meters races to help Valley take sixth overall.

For Boyden, it was a banner year and one that has garnered the Valley Times’ Male Athlete of The Year for the 2014-15 school year. The Valley Times’ Male Athlete of The Year is awarded annually to the top graduated senior male athlete among the seven high schools covered by the Times.

“Having this notion of working hard and seeing a payoff is really rewarding,” said Boyden. “Running is long. It involves such preparation, such hard trials and these brutal workouts and races you get freaked out for. It’s weird to think something you’ve put so many hours in can be affected by something so fickle, but that’s what it comes down to — your mentality. It’s taken me four years to learn. I knew this was the time, this was the season and it just all fell into place. This year turned out better than I ever could have imagined.”

Boyden ran 109 track events and 31 cross country races during his four-year career, won four individual district championships (one in cross country and three in track, taking the 1,500 as a junior and the 1,500 and 3,000 as a senior) as well as the aforementioned pair of state track titles. His second place at the 2014 4A state cross country championships was the highest in school history, and Boyden owns the school record in the 3,000 and the second-fastest time in the 1,500.

A tenacious competitor who always seemed to save his best for the biggest meets, yet still brought his full effort to even the least consequential dual meets during the regular season, Boyden took pride in pressing through the pain and crossing the line first.

“You knew when it came time to hurt that Wilder wasn’t going to hesitate,” said Valley Catholic cross country and track head coach Tommy Manning. “He was going to embrace it. He knew how to race and that set the bar for the expectations for the rest of the team. He was easy to coach and very consistent. When he toed the line, you knew he was going to give his best.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior Wilder Boyden was one of the best team leaders head coach Tommy Manning has ever had, a captain who lead vocally and by example.

Team Leader

In a sport that tends to focus on the individual star and the exploits of a single runner or two, Boyden bred a certain sort of democratic society on the Valley running scene both in cross country and in track. There was no entitlement, and no segregation between JV and varsity athletes while Boyden governed the Valiant ranks. Boyden’s open, nurturing nature made the slowest freshman runner feel as important as Boyden’s talented sidekick Ben Davidson when he was setting the tempo for a winter workout.

Boyden’s individual success was also the team’s. Always. Boyden’s teammates naturally gravitated toward his amiable personality, and in that way, Boyden was able to get Valley’s runners to buy into a team concept that was bigger than themselves.

“I think he’s the best leader I’ve ever had,” said Manning of Boyden. “He was able to mobilize these guys in a way that I’d never seen before in terms of making people feel a part of things. He was a true team leader. He treated everyone as equals. People felt very empowered around him and very accepted.”

Manning said there were days when the team would “coach itself” because Boyden stressed process and routine to his younger teammates. Stretching correctly before practice, eating right during the week leading up to a meet, showing up at practice every day — they were all taken care of as a result of Boyden’s guidance and without Manning having to play the role of dictator.

“It wasn’t a cliquey cult; it was a culture that was overwhelmingly positive,” said Manning. “As a coach, that’s what you strive for. Wilder really had that. When he talks, people listen. He has that presence. He was kind of that older brother to those guys.”

Boyden said he started building an image of what a leader should look like by watching those before him, such as Aidan McCloud, Connor Garcia and Andy Holstrom, who tutored Boyden how to lead by example and treat everyone as equals. By his senior year, Boyden was able to emulate not only their actions, but their words and thoughts as well, and convey them to the team.

“It might have been a natural transition, but maybe not one you would expect,” said Boyden. “I watched. I learned. I kept what was good and molded it into leading this great group of guys. The true testament is that in the years to come, I have no doubt that those who I have instructed and taught will go on and lead as well. That’s the mark of a good program — leaving seeds that will sprout and do the same.”

Boyden became known for his pre-race speeches, getting the Valiants together at the starting line and giving impassioned messages in hopes of inspiring his team, but not in a corny, clichéd way. As a captain, Boyden would ask why Valley was running that day. He would inquire about their motivation, their dreams and desires, and play up those aspirations to get the best out of each teammate.

“Once you have that down, the rest sort of follows,” said Boyden. “Training is automatic when you have a great coach and runners to push you. You get in a routine and get ready to perform. Then, the variable that comes into play is your mental toughness.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Boyden and teammate Ben Davidson were a powerful one-two punch for both the Valley Catholic cross country and track teams this season.

Mental Warfare

There’s an intellectual conflict, Boyden said, between the person your brain wants you to be: the one who wants to quit because of the nerves and the competitor your carnal nature strives toward: the winner who leaves it all out on the course. Pre-race butterflies can be beneficial to performance Boyden noted, but in excess could be detrimental.

Moreover, especially in long distance events, once the race begins finding the rational stamina to be great and triumph. It was that mental warfare: not giving into the self doubt, digging deep into that reservoir, not taking a backseat to anybody and unlocking his vast potential that Boyden conquered as a senior

“I wasn’t running to see if I could be remembered, but just to see if I could,” said Boyden. “You really have two competing mindsets going on. You’re fighting a battle with yourself and your competitors. When you say ‘I’m giving myself a chance,’ that opens the window to the long-term and the side that’s interested in doing something great. When you give yourself a chance, anything could happen.

“I gave myself a chance to show what I’ve been training for and not let it be determined by a mindset,” continued Boyden. “I just ran. There’s no way around it. It’s going to hurt. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Once you realize that and stay present in the moment and know the pain is just temporary, you’re capable of memories that last a lifetime.”

There were times when Boyden would talk to former teammates who had given up running after high school, or when he would socialize with classmates who enjoyed the freedom of being a “regular student” and not running countless miles every day and envy them. Boyden wanted to relent and give in to his natural instinct to relax. Yet, his passion to run what he calls “a simple yet tough sport” and take on a unique challenge, to push himself to his utmost physical limit, would not allow him to quit.

“Oftentimes, the hardest things to achieve are the most worthy,” said Boyden. “What draws me to the distance side of racing is not only the physically tough side of the sport, but the mental one as well.

“Whenever you’re getting ready for a race, double-knotting your spikes, you ask yourself ‘Why do I do this?’,” continued Boyden. “Midway through the race, you wonder what would happen if you drop out, maybe get spiked or injured. In a weird way, you almost hope these things happen. I ran to test myself, my willpower and be able to say I could do it. The pressure was taken off because of this. I had to realize I was just as good as those guys and they didn’t have anything I didn’t have. There was no reason why I couldn’t have a good race day.”

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Boyden ran alongside 2014 senior Cooper Roach for three seasons before stepping into the spotlight this year and breaking out big-time on his own.

State Champion

Before the 2015 4A state track and field championships, Boyden had never envisioned himself crossing the finish line first in the 3,000. Second or third, maybe, Boyden said, but never first, particularly with Sweet Home’s Jakob Hiett and Davidson owning the state’s top times for most of the regular season. Yet, on the morning of the 3,000 final, Boyden said something “clicked” and he locked into a mental zone, one of clarity and focus that he’d never sensed before.

There was no reason, Boyden thought to himself, why he couldn’t be resilient, hold on with the pack for five laps and see how the race unfolded. Hanging outside and playing coy behind the front of the pack, Boyden let Hiett and Davidson take the event out front. Thoughts of relaxing and letting Davidson take the win as he had so often with Roach danced in Boyden’s head.

Ever humble and selfless, Boyden contemplated stepping to the side and ushering Hiett and Davidson to the finish line. Yet, with Hiett leading by 4 or 5 meters and rain pelting the Hayward Field surface, Boyden decided his senior year didn’t have to end that way. With 200 meters to go and a large conglomerate of family, friends and coaches on hand, Boyden took off, closed on Hiett and used the Hayward faithful’s roar as fuel to beat Hiett by a second. The next day, facing the same pack of racers he’d beaten in the 3,000, Boyden again outran Hiett down the Hayward homestretch for his second state title in as many days.

“There isn’t a cooler feeling than having all of Hayward behind you,” said Boyden. “That was my favorite race of those two days. In many ways, those were races I’d been preparing for my entire life. And in that way it was a really cool pinnacle that I was proud to be a part of.”

Boyden will join Roach at Santa Clara University in the fall where he’ll run with 12 incoming freshmen and hopes to help build the Broncos into the kind of powerhouse that Valley became during his illustrious tenure.

“I think we have the tools to compete for a conference title there,” said Boyden. “There’s a lot of work to be done before then, but there’s a lot of talent and I’m super proud to be a part of it.”

At the 4A state cross country meet in November, Boyden and Davidson were explosive on the hilly Lane Community College course, taking second and third respectively to tally instrumental points for the Valley team total. Yet, it was the efforts of sophomores Jamie Kawaguchi, Phillip Borlet and Jacob Godshalk, and juniors Alex Kiss and Aidan Gillespie that ultimately put Valley atop the 4A podium.

“I give (Boyden) a lot of credit for what the guys were able to do,” said Manning. “They ran ridiculous at the state meet. They ran really, really well. Everyone came through and you don’t see that very often when you have seven guys who show up and get the job done on the same day.”

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