Athlete of Week: Success runs in family for Pieterse

cfxc-michaelpieterse2Most people assume Michael Pieterse pursued cross country running because of his famous mother and older sister. In reality, the Carolina Forest freshman knew little about their involvement in the sport when he won his first race and began his running career.

“I first discovered I could run when I was in the fifth grade and I won the Pee Dee Classic,” recalled Pieterse, who was voted the Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week after winning the same race last week. “Since then my mother has influenced me, but I didn’t know anything about her background; I just knew I enjoyed running.”

His mother, famed South African Olympian and current Coastal Carolina assistant cross country coach Zola Budd Pieterse, was known around the world during her heyday in the sport. But she never pushed running on to Michael or his older sister, Lisa, who is also a standout senior at Carolina Forest. For them, it was more about sibling rivalry.

“That was like the best day ever,” Michael recalled of the first time he was able to outrun his sister. “Lisa helps me both on and off the course. She helps motivate me during runs. We are both very competitive but we try to help and support each other.”

Over the past two seasons, Michael Pieterse has made the move from one of the top runners on his team to one of the best in the Lower State. His upcoming meet at the Sand Hills Invitational against the state’s best runners will give me the chance to see exactly how far he has come.

“Last summer I trained really hard with my coach (Eric Sauthoff) and he pushed me to do my best, so I owe it all to him,” he said. “Sand Hills is my favorite course; it’s perfect for my running style so I’m hoping to break my (personal-best time of 16:34).”

Pieterse also hopes to help his team make a push in the postseason. As a freshman on a team filled with upperclassmen, he wants to send his teammates off with a region title and a strong showing in the Lower State and State Championships coming up in November.

“This year we’re hoping to win regions as a team and do well in the Lower State and State,” he said. “This will be my last year running with my close friends (senior co-captains) Stephen Ciaramitaro and Nick Beale. They’ve been really good about running with me and pushing me, so it would be nice to help them have a great final season.”

Another fitting finish would be a medal-stand finish alongside his sister. The two completed the family sweep at the Pee Dee Classic last weekend, and a similar finish in the region, Lower tate and State Championships would be a storybook ending for the whole Pieterse and Panthers family.

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