Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School eighth-grader Thomas Moats III won first place in the 11-13 division in the VyStar 5K presented by the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Moats placed 23rd out of 737 total runners with a time of 20:36.
“I was happy, I mean, I wanted the medal, I wanted to be able to have that,” he said. “I was just excited that I got that. One, it was just for fun. I just saw that there was a New Year’s Eve run, and we were already going down there for the game. We saw that and I was like, ‘I want to run that,’ so I just decided I was going to run that.”
Moats has competed in several 5K races, including a top-three finish in his division in last year’s Covenant Health Knoxville 5K. He admits the Jacksonville race had unique challenges.
“I’ve probably done four or five before,” he said. “I would do the Covenant Health ones up in Knoxville, and sometimes I did the Loudon County ones just down here. It was definitely warmer. It was flat, and you usually don’t find a lot of flatness around here. It was on the road in a populated city, so you had people walking along on the sidewalks and the roads were cut off, so there was no one really driving the road.”
A multi-sport athlete, Moats plays basketball at LCIMS and runs cross country for the North Panthers. He developed a passion for running three years ago.
“My fifth-grade year, I heard, ‘If you want to join the cross country team, then come up to the office and get some papers’,” he said. “At first I was like, ‘I don’t want to run cross country,’ because I had no idea what it really was, and then my cousin told me what it actually was, and then my friends encouraged me, ‘Yeah, you should do that.’ I went to the office, signed up fifth-grade year. Coach (Jeff) Kuhl worked with me and he led me to breaking six minutes in the state meet, and I’ve just loved it ever since. I just like to run and I just enjoy doing that.”
Moats quickly evolved into one of the team’s top performers and led the LCIMS boys team with a top-70 finish in the 2019 Tennessee State Middle School State Championships.
He plans to run track in the spring and continue at Lenoir City High School next year.
“I texted his mom and I said, ‘Wow,’ because I was very impressed with his time,” Jeff Kuhl, LCHS and North cross country/track coach, said. “He’s on the basketball team right now and the fact he’s still running and out there competing, I was just very excited about that. Thomas is very talented and he really loves running. He’s been to state since fifth grade. He shows promise also in track. Last year a seventh-grader, he a ran 5:26 or something like that one day, so I’m looking for him to be a low 5:00 this year and making state in track.”