Christopher Maira-Klajic does not enjoy running alone. It's a characteristic that his stepfather, Scott Klajic, believes keeps the 13-year-old from running his best times.
"He's a lot faster than I am, but he'll hang back with me instead of running his pace," Klajic said about races in which the pair compete.
Because Christopher likes having a running partner, he doesn't mind too much getting up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to get in some running before his school day starts. Besides, it was Klajic who got him running in the first place.
"When my mom met him back in California, around when I was in fifth grade, he kind of inspired me to get started running," Christopher said.
"He started running 11 years ago," the 13-year-old said of his stepfather.
The early-morning runs served as training in advance of April's Country Music Half-Marathon in Nashville, Tenn.
For that race, the pair did not receive late word that the start time would be pushed up because of threatening weather conditions, so they arrived 15 minutes late. That meant they started the race among a mass of slower runners, so they spent most of the race simply moving around other runners.
"We had probably ... 6,000 people in front of us, so we never got our stride," Klajic said. "It hurt Christopher more because ... he stayed back with me like he did in our training runs. He stayed back for the first six miles, then took off."
Christopher finished 12th in his 12-14 Division -- and third among 13-year-olds -- though his stepfather knew his time was affected by the circumstances. Looking at the times of the top finishers, he guessed that Christopher might have won his age group had they been able to gain a full stride.
The seventh-grader had a successful season with the Lakeside Middle School track team this past year. He won the 2-mile race in the dual meet against Greenbrier for the second year in a row. He also improved his placement against his performance as a sixth-grader in the other meets.
Klajic is a clinical psychologist at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center. Because of work requirements, the family likely will be moving away from the Augusta area this summer.
That means Christopher will be running elsewhere, rather than practicing with the Lakeside High School cross country team.
Klajic said the high school coaching staff saw the pair running at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, realized he went to Lakeside Middle, and offered him the chance to practice with them next season.
"I wouldn't have counted scoring points in meets, but they said I could participate with the high-schoolers," Christopher said.
The pair often run 5K races, such as the Aiken Trolley Y, which they raced in May. Klajic estimates his stepson's best time is around 18 minutes, which equates to an average of 6 minutes per mile in the 3.1-mile race.
Christopher's gift, his stepfather believes, is the natural way in which he strides.
"He has a real natural gait. That's really half the battle," Klajic said. "He looks perfect, like a magazine picture when he runs. It's just the way God made him. Pretty amazing."
Klajic said his stepson's abilities are unique, but his other qualities really set him apart.
"He's getting good grades. We do GAP Ministries, and he helps us feed homeless people," Klajic said. "He gives money from his allowance to the church. And we haven't told him to do it.
"I've never seen a 13-year-old so others-focused and conscious as he is."
Christopher hopes one day to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point and compete for the team there.
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