Up until a month or so ago, the only thing that stood out about Archie Sullivan's running was his disdain for starting blocks.
"I tried them. It didn't work," the Chesterton junior said. "I think I was the only kid in the entire four-by-four at state who didn't use blocks."
It was just another chapter in a surprising story of success that has seen Sullivan ascend from someone who didn't even letter as a freshman to 1,600 relay state medalist and the region's fastest 400 runner, all in a span of two years.
"It's unbelievable to me," Trojans coach TR Harlan said. "We didn't foresee him being that fast. I have no idea where it comes from other than he works extremely hard. Here's this surfer kid standing there waiting for somebody to shoot the gun and he runs like hell. It's funny."
Sullivan is the latest in Chesterton's line of talented 400 runners. He's also far and away the unlikeliest. While senior teammate Joe Troop, who took third at state last year, clearly looks the part, Sullivan doesn't. Everything about him seems pretty average, until the last 100 meters of the race, when he passes everyone, Troop included.
"He's a chaser. He does a good job getting to the line, which is a nice attribute," Harlan said. "Obivously, he has some talent, but he's probably not the most talented kid. His head moves a lot. His arms are all over. We'll never use him for a training video of how to run. We tried to turn him into a prototypical runner and we were like, good luck, do it your way."
Harlan can't explain it and neither can Sullivan, who was never involved in a sport before high school. He described the state meet experience as surreal, something he can't even put into words. The same goes for a junior season in which his time of 49.69 is the best in the area.
"It's crazy," Sullivan said. "I couldn't even run a 54 as a freshman. After the first few (races), I thought I was just getting lucky. Then I started improving and I realized it wasn't just a fluke, that I could actually compete. It's the first sport I've actually accomplished something in other than just participating. It feels good to go out and help the school."
The time Sullivan spent on the awards podium at state opened his eyes to his new-found potential. He ran cross country, and though he didn't do anything special, his diligent distance training helped develop a strength base that is serving him well now.
"I'm not fast enough to run the 200. If it was a 50, I'd get last," Sullivan said. "The 400's like the perfect distance for my speed and endurance. I don't really die out. Joe's always ahead on the last curve, but that's where I'm getting separated. It's a confidence booster. I know Joe's a lot better than me. He's pushing me and I hope I'm pushing him. Every time I race, I just want to get a little better, even if it's just a hundredth of a second."
Harlan expects the duo to lead the 1600 relay back to Bloomington, where they took seventh last year. He hopes Sullivan and Troop are also running together in the open 400.
"Archie's the epitome of what we want in the program," Harlan said. "When you build a program, you're trying to build around kids like that."