At least twice a week, Dwight Parker will hunker down in front of the television set at his family's home, pop in a familiar videotape and relive his own personal nightmare.
Parker will watch a confident, purposeful runner dressed in Woodlawn's black track and field uniform lead a pack in the 3,200 meters at the Class 4A-3A state championships this past winter. Excitement builds as the leader maintains a considerable gap over the competition and, even as a runner wearing a blue Eleanor Roosevelt uniform charges forth, Parker will allow himself the slightest hint of a smile as the runner in black takes the final lap with at least a 30-meter advantage.
But the smile will vanish as Mikias Gelagle, the senior from Eleanor Roosevelt, continues to gain ground on the leader. As both sprint toward the finish line, the runner from Woodlawn appears to pull up just before he crosses the boundary, allowing Gelagle to snatch victory from the leader's hands in a thrilling photo finish.
When the race ends, Parker, the junior from Woodlawn who lost that race by .03 of a second to Gelagle, will pick up the remote control, press the rewind button, and watch the final 30 seconds over and over again.
"I always get that feeling in the bottom of my stomach that I just can't believe that I lost that race by that little bit," Parker said. "I will never forget that. Never. The last 50 meters is on my brain. I lost that race. That was my fault. He ran through the line, and I kind of eased into it. That was my biggest mistake. If I had run through the line, I would've won the race."
Parker is his own harshest critic, but his review of his performance illustrates the depths to which he craves success.
Ever since he began competing in the 3,000 as a 10-year-old at the Amateur Athletic Union National Junior Olympics, Parker, who turned 17 in March, has sought to become the best distance runner in the metro area, the state and the country.
Since the winter of his sophomore year, Parker has captured eight Baltimore County titles in indoor and outdoor track and one Class 4A-3A Central regional crown in the 3,200. He has been named to three consecutive All-County teams in indoor and outdoor track and appeared on the All-Metro squad this past winter when he produced the area's fastest time in the 3,200 - 9 minutes, 32.16 seconds at the Hispanic Games.
Parker is also the reigning two-time county and Class 4A North regional champion in cross country. He is a two-time All-Metro and All-County honoree and was the county Runner of the Year this past fall.
"He's like a shining star," said Digital Harbor junior Milo Barry, the Baltimore City and Class 2A-1A Central regional champion in the 3,200 this past winter. "I look up to him."
But for all of those accolades, the one goal that has eluded Parker is a gold medal from a state meet. It's an omission on his resume that Parker said he intends to fill.
"Everything I've done up to now leads up to that state championship. That's all that's left," he said. "Winning counties was big and winning a couple of region titles was big, but now I have to win a state championship. That's what I want to do - to fill that void."
Parker has been a distance runner ever since he joined the Randallstown Track Club at 10. At that time, he dabbled in the sprints before finding his calling in the distance events.
"I like the fact that the distance races involve a lot of strategy," said Parker, who has a 3.0 grade point average and a course load that includes Advanced Placement trigonometry and English and honors U.S. history. "In the sprints, you work very hard to run fast for a little bit of time. In the distance races, you have to have stamina and endurance, and you need speed, too."
Parker's events are quite a departure from those of his younger brother and sister. Duane, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph, competes in the 200, 400 and long and triple jumps, and Dera, a seventh-grader at Deer Park Middle School, is an emerging sprinter.
For all of his accomplishments, however, Parker said his most memorable performance culminated in a second-place finish in the 3,200 at the Class 4A state championships during the spring of his freshman year.
"That was one of the biggest shocks of the meet," Parker said of his time of 9:43.73, which was almost nine seconds behind eventual winner Zach Martinez of Gaithersburg. "Everybody was expecting [Broadneck freshman Matthew] Centrowitz because he was known at the time. I think that was one of my biggest highlights."
It wasn't startling to Warriors coach Mark Pryor, who predicted to Parker's father before the race that the then-freshman would break 9:50 based on a series of 1,000-meter runs that Parker finished in less than three minutes each.