Ian Urbina already had proven himself as a distance runner when he ran into an unexpected obstacle at age 15. After winning two The Athletics Congress (TAC) national titles, one in cross-country and another at 3,000 meters in the 11-12 age group, Urbina was sidelined by Osgood Schlatter disease, a painful enlargement of the shinbone caused by excessive, repetitive pulling of the quadriceps muscle in a tendon. The ailment occurs during a growth spurt, which Urbina recently has completed. He now stands a slim 6 feet, and hopes his health problems are behind him. Said St. Albans Coach Skip Grant: "It is a problem only nature can solve." The ailment slowed Urbina during much of his sophomore season, causing him pain in both knees. At the time, he was forced to resort to other means of training when the pounding of running became too bothersome. "The doctor downplayed it and said it wasn't going to be that big a deal," Urbina said. "I wasn't too worried about it, I knew if I kept in shape in the pool it wouldn't affect me." Urbina jogged in water, rode a bicycle and swam while he was unable to run on normal surfaces. Although not as effective as running, the cross-training eliminated the stress on the body, and gave his cardiovascular system and legs a workout. The training worked, and Urbina developed into one of the top runners in the area last season. This year, the senior is back to defend his Interstate Athletic Conference title. "When I first got it, it wasn't too bad," Urbina said. "We caught it pretty much right when it started." Even though the pain has subsided, there is concern the problem might resurface. "I know I have to constantly ask Ian if he is hurting because he wants to train," said Grant. "I have to monitor him because he doesn't want to miss the training regimen. . . . "His competitive spirit is the main thing. He has the ability to reach deep within himself and when he finishes a race you know he has run to the best of his ability. He is a willing worker and he won't give it away." "I go as hard as I can and try to win and see what I can do," Urbina said. "It's a matter of concentrating and being psyched, but it's also a matter of not getting too tense and staying relaxed. I've found in three years I have learned how to find the balance." Last season Urbina teamed with St. Albans runners Chris May, Matt Ross and Jacob Montweiler, Georgetown Prep's Chris Neal, Bogi Yohannes and Sean Rhinehart and Paul VI's Eric Andreoni to win the intermediate division of the AAU cross-country nationals at Hagerstown (Md.) Community College. He also achieved an individual all-American honor with a fourth-place finish in the AAU national meet. This season has begun well with a victory at the Handley Invitational and a second-place finish at the Pallotti Invitational. But, more importantly, Urbina is not running with any pain. St. Albans has been the dominant team over the past decade in the IAC, winning nine of the last 12 team titles. Urbina has been an all-IAC performer for all three years in leading the Bulldogs to team titles every year. Last year, Urbina dethroned defending champion Jamie Salter of Bullis to win the individual crown. In his first two years Urbina finished seventh and sixth to earn all-conference honors. "He meshed in right with the team," Grant said. "He is a personable, likable young fellow and well-respected. . . . He has been a successful runner ever since he started. His improvement has been a natural progression." Urbina has handled St. Albans' rigorous academic requirements well, and wants to achieve a balance between running and studying when he reaches college. "I'm definitely looking for a very good academic school," Urbina said, "but running has to be a part of it." Grant, for one, will miss him. "He has developed into what I hope all my athletes will be like," Grant said. "He is a pleasure to work with. A student-athlete in every sense of the word."