There are about 2,500 miles of highway between Coronado, California and Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Spend a few seconds in each and you realize the cultural distance is far larger.
Luke Klingenberg has never been able to call somewhere home for a long period of time. Saying goodbye to the closest thing to it -- never mind its white sandy beaches and constant sunshine -- just in time for his senior year of high school? You could understand if he felt a little hard done.
Instead, Klingenberg showed up at the first day of practice at Cumberland Valley High School this fall with just one thing on his mind: going for a run. Of course, it was testament to the stability, the comfort, the escape that running can provide for any of us, even in the most tumultuous times.
But more than that, it was indicative of Klingenberg's unflappable demeanor and quiet confidence -- not to mention predictive of the deserved attention, praise and success he'd find right away at his new home, both on and off the course.
"I was born in Ohio, moved to San Diego, then to Monterrey...then to Hawaii, Philly, Florida...back to San Diego, and now I'm in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania."
There had been so much movement, Klingenberg struggled to name them all in order, as his teammates laced up their trainers to cool down. Perhaps his recall was still on the mend after what had been a breakthrough race at the Carlisle Invitational -- Klingenberg went out conservatively, braved the myriad stream crossings and swampy conditions, and earned a personal-best 15:59 for fifth place in a highly competitive field dotted with top runners from all over the northeast.
"This was a really good race, really fun. A lot of good runners out there," Klingenberg continued, his demeanor never really changing. The senior spent his time in the post-race corral chatting with his closest Mid-Penn Conference competition -- Carlisle's Jack Wisner and Chambersburg's Trentin Overcash, to name a couple -- as others clamored to join in. It was the same striking scene back at the Cumberland Valley team tent, as the California boy formed the center of a crowd seemingly interested as much in hearing from him as simply being near him.
"There's something about the kid that you just can't describe, you can't teach, you can't explain," Cumberland Valley head coach Skip Springman said of Klingenberg, watching the scene play out. "He's a natural...a natural good person, and a very talented runner.
"There is nothing that rattles him," Springman continued. "The kids love him. After summer workouts, we knew he had to be a captain because his whole demeanor is just special and the kids rally around him."
Upon Klingenberg's arrival that day at CV, Springman had his first opportunity to see what many already understood about the budding star.
"We knew Luke would do well because he's kind of a self-starter," Klingenberg's father, Jason, said, referencing the latest change of scenery. "He's been running this way since about seventh grade, and he's always been able to get in there and kill it. We weren't too worried about him.
"Always disciplined, always wanting to do his best, heavy competitor since he was a young kid. Always dedicated to the sport, and I never had to get on him about going running."
The Klingenbergs' nomadic lifestyle, like those of so many families that happen upon Central Pennsylvania, is a product of their military background. Jason, a native of California's Central Valley, relocated across the country from Naval Base Coronado to Naval Support Activity Mechanicsburg over the summer. His wife Trish was equally prepared to follow, having grown up in a military family herself.
Above: Klingeberg (left, 472) competes at the CIF State XC Championships last year
It was in Coronado where Luke got his first taste of running. After moving from Florida the then-seventh grader had soured on soccer so Trish, seeing a 1.5-mile race on the local calendar, told him to give cross country a shot.
"He comes home and we asked where he finished and he said 'Oh, second,'" Jason recalled. "It was a mile and a half course. We asked how fast he ran it and he said 8:30. I go, 'Wait, are you sure about that?'"
Their casual interest suddenly piqued, the Klingenbergs pressed further.
"My wife goes, 'You mean second for seventh graders, right?' He's like, 'Nah, the whole thing.' Nonchalantly."
"From then on, the bug kicked in and he's been doing it ever since."
"It's just a lot different, because it's sunny every day in California so you don't really think about the weather. And then I came here and it's like something new every day.
Luke Klingenberg paused.
"The weather's something to talk about, I guess."
He'd only been here a couple months, yet Klingenberg was already indoctrinated into a cornerstone of Pennsylvanian life -- we forge bonds by complaining about the weather.
But Klingenberg, a west coast outsider, is a bit too easygoing to get bogged down by things falling from the sky.
"I've just been kind of going with the flow, taking it as is," Klingenberg said of his midstate arrival. "But I love just hanging with the team, meeting up with the other runners from the area."
Yes, Klingenberg landing at Cumberland Valley was somewhat athletically motivated -- but not for reasons one might expect, Jason explains. Another small vestige of Coronado had made its way up north as well.
"It's an unusual situation. We've got a whole slew of kids, and I've got some younger kids that play water polo," Jason Klingenberg said. "There's not much water polo in Central PA -- we came from southern California where it's a lifestyle.
"So we went to Cumberland Valley -- the school that had water polo vis running."
It was fate, essentially, that dropped Klingenberg's talent at the door of Springman's office on the first day of practice. But sometimes fate works both ways -- now the athlete gets a year of work in one of the area's most accomplished track and field programs.
Dozens of state medals adorn the Eagles' trophy case -- particularly over the middle distance range Klingenberg is most accustomed to. The marriage, it would seem, is perfect.
"We knew right away that he had some talent," Springman said of Klingenberg. "But just looking at the way he was working out, we knew that there was more potential there too.
Historical results bear that perspective out. Klingenberg's best times at Coronado remained remarkably consistent in his three years in the program; his cross country times hovered in the high-16 minute range, while his 1600-meter personal best improved, but only incrementally -- from 4:26.61 as a freshman to 4:26.20 as a sophomore to 4:25.85 as a junior. Klingenberg broke through to the California state cross country meet in each of the past two years, placing 83rd and 93rd.
Immediately upon the young runner's arrival, Springman and Klingenberg teamed up to take the next step.
"As we chipped away -- our workouts are a lot different than what he did in California," Springman said of his new pupil. "They did a lot of speed, not much tempo...we've done a few things, but certainly the longer stuff has really helped him."
Klingenberg's breakthrough moment was long overdue, and signs of its arrival have already started to manifest. He placed 10th at the early-season PTXC 10 in Kutztown by running 16:13. Three weeks later, he dipped under the 16-minute barrier for the first time. He placed third at October 6's Gettysburg Invitational, and looks ahead to Saturday's Mid-Penn Conference Championships on the District 3 course at Big Spring.
More importantly, Klingenberg has gone toe to toe with some of Pennsylvania's best and handled himself with the poise required of an elite runner.
With progression like that, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine a state medal dangling from Klingenberg's neck for the first time. Astute coaches at the next level would do well to take notice of the senior's rise --though local universities may lack a key ingredient needed to secure Luke's commitment.
"I know I want to run in college," Klingenberg said. "I'll probably go back to California, or somewhere near the beach."
In the opinion of athlete, father and coach, the surface has barely been scratched. Jason noted that his son has typically done most of his training on his own, and has raced as any competitor should -- to win.
Now, the competition is getting tougher, and Luke Klingenberg is gearing up for the challenge. After all, there isn't anything he'd rather be doing -- regardless of where home is.
"Running makes me disciplined, and it's just something I love doing," Klingenberg said. "Especially coming out to the meets, it's just really exciting to get that nice adrenaline rush."