COLUMBIA — On a Tuesday afternoon at Hickman High School, a track meet is about to begin. While his teammates are busy stretching and preparing themselves for the day’s events, Hickman senior Sam Masters is off doing his own routine. Masters is opting out of the event to better prepare for a larger upcoming meet.
Masters often trains alone, pushing his body to new limits even if there is no one around to see him because, for Masters, running is about more than winning medals. His commitment to running was born after the tragic death of his father, and now, Masters is one of the top distance runners in the state.
The call came from Masters’ oldest brother, Philip Masters. Their father, David Masters, had been murdered in Nixa, Mo. Sam Masters’ father had once been a prominent attorney. He would often take on clients he knew could not pay him. He was an extremely hard worker, but his commitment to helping others eventually took its toll on him. He made a series of bad decisions that led to his murder in March of 2005. The news was a complete shock to Sam Masters, who said that his parents had tried to shield him and his siblings from the problems his father was facing. Sam Masters recalled handling the news in a strange way.
“After my brother called, I just went and put on my running shoes and went running,” he said. “It was the farthest I had ever ran at that point, 10 miles. It was definitely an emotion-charged run, even though I didn’t know how to feel, I just felt kind of lost.”
Sam Masters had much to think about that day. He felt new responsibilities were being placed on him. All of his older siblings had, by then, moved out on their own and he was the oldest of the three that were living with his mother. However, the run was not just an escape for Sam Masters, it was a turning point in his life and the hour that he decided to commit to being the best runner that he could be.
“On that run, I promised myself I would keep running for my dad,” Sam Masters said. “My dad had always told me to do what I love to do most. He didn’t love being an attorney.”
With his newfound commitment, Sam Masters found himself running more and more. He often chose to run alone.
Running became a consuming force in his life. Running was a reflection of his entire being. It was his passion, it was how he dealt with all of his problems and anxiety.
“I don’t really like to show my emotions,” Sam Masters said. “My emotions come out of my legs when I am running and it fuels me. I remember this one race ... I was at a running camp in northwest Missouri. There were some of the best runners in the country there. In that race, I ran eight miles with an average time per-mile better than I had ever had before only running four miles. I thought about my dad the whole time.”
Though he used running to deal with his emotions on his own, he is quick to point out that his friends were just as important in helping him deal with his emotions. Naturally, his closest friends were runners.
Nearly every single day, even throughout the summer, Sam Masters would go on shorter runs with a group of friends from track. Running was fun and sometimes the group would sneak out late for “midnight miles.” After a particularly rambunctious day, one member of the group might even have found himself duct-taped to a chair. They may have seemed like just a goofy bunch of distance runners, but they were always there for him.
He especially stresses the importance of his relationship with his best friend, Alex Edwards.
“One night that summer, we were at a friend’s house just hanging out and there was something on TV that had to do with a murder, and I just couldn’t handle it,” Sam Masters said.
“I saw Sam get up and walk out of the room, he was obviously upset,” Edwards said. “I just went out and hugged him.”
“I had a lot of emotional breakdowns, but Alex was always there to help me out,” Sam Masters said.
“I usually just try to tell him that he is going to be fine,” Edwards said. “But other times I’ll just change the subject and get him laughing.”
Sam Masters and Edwards remain friends today, though Edwards, 19, graduated in 2007. Edwards holds Sam Masters in high regard.
“I was a runner when Sam came to Hickman, and it made me really mad when he started beating me,” Edwards said. “But I look up to that kid every day.”
Athlete to athlete, there is good reason that Sam Masters has the respect of his competitors. He is a training machine. He never goes a day without running unless he is injured in some way. During the winter offseason, he averaged 12 miles per day, at least an hour-and-a-half of pure running time.
“Most people probably don’t drive that far in a day,” Sam Masters said.
He has broken Hickman’s two-mile school record with a time of 9 minutes, 22 seconds and placed second in the two-mile at the Class 4A state championships last year. If all goes according to plan, he will take the title this year. He is a smart competitor as well, and is dedicated to his training even when his running shoes are off.
Sam Masters used to be a bit hardheaded and had the tendency to overtrain. During cross-country season of his junior year, he was having a good deal of pain in his thigh, but kept running against the advice of his coaches. It wasn’t until the pain was bad enough to suspect a possible stress fracture that he took a break from running. He learned his lesson and is wiser about all aspects of his conditioning, right down to nutrition.
“He has learned a lot about listening to the signals his body is giving him,” his mother Ginger Masters said. “He will even tell me when I am cooking him too much red meat.”
His mother might think Sam Masters can be a little over zealous about running, but she is encouraged by his commitment.
“He can be dedicated when it hurts, he is sick and out of energy, and that will help him in more than one aspect of life,” Ginger Masters said. Sam Masters’ mother said that his discipline is good for others to see as well.
“He is such a positive and strengthening influence on the family,” Ginger Masters said.
Sam Masters’ running career has produced tangible benefits as well. He has signed with the University of Tulsa and plans on majoring in sports administration.
Sam Masters has accomplished much, and has his eye set on even more goals, such as that state title. However, he maintains that his motivation for running is still not just about winning titles for himself. Three years after his father’s death, Sam Masters is quick to point out that his commitment to distance running has not changed since the 10-mile run he took when his father died.
“The memory of my father keeps me going,” he said. “Every day, I have to wake up knowing that I will never see him again. I know he made some mistakes, and I have learned from them. But I am not angry at him. I still love him, and running is my way of showing it.”