It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Rob Doherty loves the movie Cars. He enjoys the film that features a speedy race car named Lightning McQueen, quoting the wisecracking hero whenever the situations warrants.
He enjoys entertaining his friends by putting up quotes on Instagram. His favorite is "Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beamer."
"I am Lightning McQueen," the Saint Anthony's senior said.
And of course every McQueen needs a Doc Hudson, the wise, old racecar voiced in the film by Paul Newman. Doherty's Doc Hudson was former St. Anthony's assistant track coach Bob Higgins, who passed away after losing a battle with brain cancer in 2019.
"I feel like I do have a Doc Hudson," Doherty said. "He kind of taught me how to run. I didn't know how to run long distances and he kind of helped me with that and shaped me into the right direction."
Doherty is still traveling in the direction which Higgins sent him. It's a path that led him to becoming one of the most dominant runners in New York State and earned him a place on the University of Connecticut track team next season. It's also a path that has seen him pick up 10 first-place finishes in both indoor and outdoor events since the beginning of January.
The spring season has been particularly dominant with his latest impressive effort coming on May 16 when he captured the NSCHSAA 1600 meters Sectional Championship in a personal-best time of 4:22.92. That came on the heels of two April victories - in the 200 meters [PR 23:20] at the CHSAA Varsity Season Opener and in the 800 [PR 1:56.50] at the NSCHSAA Easter Classic on April 4.
Doherty is also ranked third in the U.S. in the 600, which he considers his best event. He ran a personal-best 1:19.90 to win the CHSAA Intersectionals in March.
"I feel like the 600 is a perfect kind of sprint for me," Doherty, 17, said. "You need some stamina to finish that last lap and, of course, speed."
St. Anthony's head coach Tim Dearie says that Doherty is an "interesting study", partly because he is a quiet young man.
"He is very quiet as a matter of fact," Dearie said. "He speaks when he feels it's necessary and even then it's not too many words. Deep down he is real tough. That's the thing about really good distance runners, you have true toughness, deep inside. It's not like with some sports where you have equipment on and you slam people and pretend you're tough. This sport you have to put up or shut up because, say what you want, the stop watch doesn't lie.
"Robbie has a strong will and it means something to him to run fast and do the best for himself and the team. He's a middle distance runner who could be a distance runner or a sprinter. He has true sprinter speed. I let him run the 200 out of the blocks at Icahn and he won at 23.2. I think he can run a second faster. He has a lot of skills and when he gets to UConn I think they are going to serve him well. They have a very good middle distance program and I think he can be elite in the 800 and 1500."
Doherty admits that he is a quiet kid most of the time and that when he's on the track, he lets his running do the talking. It's actually a bit ironic considering he wants to study communications in college in hopes of someday being a news anchor.
"I recently became interested in it while watching the news," Doherty said. "My parents have always told me I have a good voice to be someone on the news."
Doherty will have to be content being the news rather than broadcasting it for the time being, though. He'll try to make some more headlines this weekend at the Catholic School State Championships at Icahn Stadium. He graduates next week so he'd like to go out with a flourish.
"I'm nervous before a race most of the time but I also try to use that nervousness to help me for the beginning parts of the race," Doherty said. "I tell myself, these kids you're running against, whatever you are going through, they are going through, too, so you have to keep pushing yourself. I think running is 80 percent mental.
"If you don't have a good mentality before the race, you're bound to not do well. You might be super fit but if you don't have a good mindset about the race, it's not going to work out for you."
But when Doherty is channeling Lightning McQueen, anything is possible.
"Faster than fast, quicker than quick. I am Lightning. Speed. I am Speed."