There were early hints that Wade Endress's destiny was as a distance runner.
"In conditioning for football or basketball, I'd be the guy the coach would point out for the other players to try to shoot for,'' Endress said. "Or, when we'd run the mile in gym class, I'd be the one guy looking forward to it.''
Endress turned other people's pain into his pleasure, winning several state medals and setting a number of Altoona Area High School records along the way. Now his running is taking him to the same destination as a couple of other recent Mountain Lion products: University Park.
Endress, Altoona's standout track and cross country runner, has signed to continue his athletic career at Penn State, where he'll join former AAHS teammates Brady Gehret and Aaron Nadolsky.
"It seems like we've got a little pipeline going there,'' Altoona boys track and field coach Mike Adams said. "Wade has had his heart set on running for Penn State. Wade was excited when they offered. There was really nowhere else he was thinking of going.''
Actually, Endress did take a visit to High Point, a smaller college in North Carolina. Georgetown and Cornell also recruited him.
"I wanted to get a feel for a smaller school, so I had something to compare [Penn State] to,'' Endress said. "But I picked Penn State. Having two former teammates there was a big advantage. I already knew a lot of the guys on the team and felt I fit in. The coaches are top notch, and so are the facilities.''
Endress will run cross country and both indoor and outdoor track for the Nittany Lions, probably continuing to focus on the mile and the 800 meters. In cross country, Endress is a three-time District 6 Class AAA champion and all-state finisher, placing second last fall.
Endress already has six state medals on the track. He was the bronze medalist in the mile run at the 2010 PTFCA indoor meet and was fourth in the PIAA outdoor championship in the 1,600 meters both as a sophomore and a junior. He also was part of a silver medal effort in the distance medley relay at last year's indoor meet.
Endress holds Altoona records in the 800 and mile indoors and the 800 and 1,600 outdoors. He's also competed in the Nike Cross Country Nationals, the Nike Indoor Nationals and the Caribbean Scholastic Invitational.
"He's just a tough competitor. The thing about Wade is he loves to compete,'' Adams said. "His work ethic is second to none. You could see he had talent. In eighth and ninth grade he was head and shoulders above everybody else, but he never accepted that. He always wanted to be better, better, better.''
Endress began running competitively in seventh grade as a way to stay in shape for football and basketball. Eventually, he dropped both of those other sports to concentrate on his running.
"I just fell in love with it,'' Endress said. "I have to give credit to my coaches, Lee Baranik and Mike Adams, for developing me.''
While track and field is primarily seen as an individual sport, Endress takes bigger pride in team accomplishments. The Mountain Lions have won two state indoor track titles, a PIAA outdoor crown and finished fifth as a team in cross country during his career.
"That was another thing that appealed to me about Penn State,'' Endress said.
In addition to paying for Endress's college education, gaining him notoriety and helping him see the country, running also helped in his social life. He met current girlfriend Ashley Stump, a standout distance runner at Central Cambria, through the sport.
"Both of us went to cross country camp at Millersville. We met the summer of our sophomore year,'' Endress said. "She's the same age as me, so we'd always talk. This year, we started to date.''
With his college course settled, Endress will be able to focus on adding to his high school medal resume. He has indoor track championship coming up in the next month, then his senior outdoor season.
"This lets me focus on my senior year,'' Endress said. "Now I can try to win a state championship myself and go out with a bang.''