Damian Feeney's introduction to cross country wasn't glamorous.
As a freshman at North Rockland he distinctly remembers those first few races.
"I was always one of the last people they had to cheer in," Feeney said. "I wasn't sure if they were clapping for pity."
A lot has changed in three years. An all-league and all-county selection last year, the senior is now the Red Raiders' No. 2 and this week's Journal News Rockland Scholar-Athlete.
Growing up, Feeney was always a fan of team sports but struggled to excel in them. After failed attempts in roller hockey, baseball and soccer, Feeley joined North Rockland's cross country team.
"That was always my favorite part; seeing the guys and knowing everyone had your back," Feeney said of team sports. "I never had that until I joined the North Rockland cross country team."
Despite struggling on the course, Feeney continued to work hard and aspired to become one of the team's top runners.
Coach Barry Baloga and then junior James Naglieri realized the potential Feeney had and continued to work with him. The support of Baloga, Naglieri and the rest of the squad kept Feeney motivated.
"The way the team is I felt that I couldn't quit," Feeney said. "I fell in love with the team before I fell in love with the sport, all those guys pushing you wanting you to get better more than you wanted to."
By his sophomore year he had become one of the team's top JV runners. The following year he made the jump to the varsity seven.
While Feeney's success in cross country might be somewhat recent, that's not the case for all aspects of his life. Since his freshman year Feeney has made North Rockland's Principles Roll nine times, maintained a cumulative average of 94, and has been a member of the National Honor Society since his junior year.
Interested in how drugs react with the body, Feeney plans to study pharmaceuticals but is still undecided as to which college he'll attend.
With most programs lasting six years, Feeney hopes to run in college to serve as a release valve from the rigorous course work.
"Running is so soothing," Feeney said. "You kind of forget everything else."
Still, Feeney has one more season left with the Red Raiders. While he hopes to excel as an individual, he hasn't forgotten how he got there.
"Individually, I want to qualify for the state meet, but I want the team with me more than I want to do it on my own," Feeney said. "I definitely try to put the team before myself; all those guys are what keep me going through the day and they're the only reason I got so good myself."