David Cardenas has been running on empty virtually his entire senior year.

But mainly, he's just been running.

Running on the cross-country team, running on the soccer field, running on the basketball court, running during the track and field season, and figuratively, running to all his classes.

"It was really busy, I will tell you that," Cardenas said with a laugh.

Then he laughed again: "I always had something to do and I was never bored."

As a four-sport athlete for Central, Cardenas was indeed busy but his welcoming smile seemed to always be present.

His biggest smile probably came as he crossed the finish line first in the 800 meters at the Class 5A state track and field championships.

Being a state champ in one of the most competitive races in the sport will make anyone smile.

"When I came around the backstretch and the last 100 meters, I felt such joy," he said. "I just couldn't believe I won."

The fantastically fleet-footed four-sport dude wasn't sure if running was his sport early in high school.

But he had a hunch it might be when he ran his first cross-country race in Delta as a freshman.

"I look back at the race and I thought 'I'm actually pretty good at this,' " he said with a big smile. "I had coaches tell me 'If you work hard, really work at this, you can be good and you might even win state someday.' "

The smile grew a bit larger. They were correct.

A fabulous senior year

That state title culminated a fabulous senior year for Cardenas and an entire high school career where he worked and worked and ran and ran.

He's been a four-sport athlete all four years, except for his junior year. That year, he was a five-sport athlete.

"I played football, just for the last three weeks as the kicker," Cardenas said modestly.

There was no such thing as idle feet for Cardenas, who says without a doubt that soccer is his favorite sport.

In the fall, he played in most of the Warriors' soccer games while running with the cross-country team at the same time. He was second on the soccer team in assists and was the best runner on the Western Slope.

Then came the state cross-country meet and disappointment was the clear winner.

"I was ranked second and I was ready to race that morning," he said, then paused thinking about that race. Sometimes, you just have a bad race and there's nothing you can do about it.

"It was disappointing, placing 15th, but I can't say I was completely disappointed with the season. I had a lot of good races and won a lot of races."

A busy fall quickly blurred into a busy winter.

Cardenas served as a defensive specialist and the high-energy guy off the bench, playing in all 23 games for the Warriors' basketball team.

He also came to terms some time ago that the other sports hurt his basketball development.

"I think I couldn't been a better basketball player. I know I could have been a better shooter, but I really only practiced in the winter, and never really worked on my shot in the summer," he said. "I really stayed at the same level since my freshman year."

As the busy bee-like athlete who buzzed from one sport to the next all four years, there wasn't much of a physical toll, Cardenas said. Being busy was actually a good thing.

"I always knew what I was doing every day. I had a schedule and stuck with it," he said. "My freshman year was the hardest because I didn't know how to manage it very well."

As any high-school athlete knows, if you're going to be agile and mobile on the sports teams, it starts with being eligible.

"I learned really early that I had to keep my grades up if I wanted to play," he said.

Part of the busy schedule was making sure he carved out time for homework.

"I knew I had to get it done, sometimes I would do my homework in class when I knew I didn't have much time," he said.

A super supportive coach

Cardenas has always pointed to head cross country coach and assistant track coach Ted Leblow for helping him throughout his career.

"He was always very supportive in whatever I did,' Cardenas said.

Leblow always saw the potential in Cardenas but also saw his competitiveness grow and his maturity develop.

"David's an amazing young man. He's been so great to coach," Leblow said before the state championships. "He works hard in school. He's supportive of everybody."

Cardenas' foot speed is one of his main attributes and it was on full display as he motored down the stretch in the finals of the 800.

But he also has the endurance, which helped him to a second-place finish in the 1,600 and a seventh-place finish in the 3,200 at state. He finished second in the 1,600 to one of the fastest distance runners in the nation.

Leblow attributed some Cardenas' success to his soccer background.

"I think it has to do with playing soccer his whole life," Leblow said. "You have to have both (speed and endurance) in soccer. You have little bursts of speed, but you also have to play for 90 minutes."

Then there's the competitiveness all athletes must have to succeed.

"I don't know why. There's just a fire in me," Cardenas said during the track season. "I never want to lose."

Another thing Cardenas is grateful for is that Leblow never pushed him to only focus on running.

"He always let me have fun. He knew I was in high school and he wanted me to have fun," Cardenas said. "He has always supported me and encouraged me."

Leblow even talked Cardenas into applying to be part of the World Mountain Running Championships in Andorra.

Cardenas called the September 2018 European trip "a really great experience" but refused to call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And he's correct because this fall, he will be competing again, this time in South America.

Cardenas said the other sports all played a role in his development.

"Soccer was always my base and helped my stamina. And being a leader on the field, helped me be a leader in cross country" he said. "Basketball was about discipline. I knew I had to give 100 percent at practice all the time."

Fun teammates, great memories

Cardenas says without a doubt one of the best things about being a four-sport athlete is the four different sets of teammates.

"It was a really cool experience," he said. "I'd walk down the hall and see my cross-country friends then I'd see my basketball friends. It was really cool."

His entire season year was a high point.

"I don't know how to explain it, it was so much fun," he said. "Especially my senior year, I just blossomed.

"I ended up playing more basketball than I thought I would, I won more races than I thought I would, it was just so much fun in general."

When he returned home, he reflected on his best moment from the state track meet.

It's not what one might expect.

"Winning the 800 was a really big win, it was amazing, but I had kinda forgot about the mile (1,600)," he said. "When I came back to Grand Junction, I looked back and thought I got second in the mile and PR'd with a 4:16. That was great. The mile is my favorite race because it is a long-short race".

Cardenas will have lots of memories to take with him as he heads to Adams State University in Alamosa this fall.

Probably a few more memories that most athletes. Memories from four different sports. Memories of four different sets of teammates.

Memories of disappointment and jubilation, memories of soccer goals and basketball steals, and memories of a thrilling state title in the 800 meters, and of course, that exciting second-place finish in the 1,600.

As that satisfying silver medal shows, there's no such thing as too many memories.

A fun and memorable high-school athletic career — multiplied by four.

Recommended for you