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Daniel Hamilton prepares to start the Rock Creek StumpJump 50k trail race in October 2014. Hamilton, who grew up in Africa, is an accomplished area trail runner who hopes to compete in the prestigious 100-mile Western States Endurance Run within the next few years.

Growing up at the foot of Africa's tallest mountain in an impoverished nation can make the trials of life in the United States — and the mountains encountered on American trail runs — seem small by comparison.

"It gives you a respect for how much we have and how easy we have it," Daniel Hamilton said.

It can also make you a dreamer, said Hamilton, a local trail runner who lived in Tanzania — where Mount Kilimanjaro looms — until he was 11 while his parents worked as missionaries.

After tearing up the local trail running scene over the past four years, Hamilton is dreaming big, both for his own running career and for the high school athletes now under his tutelage.

Hamilton, 28, accepted jobs as a guidance counselor and assistant track and cross country coach at northwest Georgia's LaFayette High School last month, just a few weeks before announcing a new sponsorship for his running career.

Outdoor 76, an outfitter in Franklin, N.C., where Hamilton attended high school, will cover his travel expenses and race fees and provide him with fresh shoes as he pursues his ultimate goal of placing in the top 10 at the prestigious 100-mile Western States Endurance Run.

For now, Hamilton will travel to events such as the JFK 50-mile race in Maryland, the American River 50-miler in California and others around the country.

"Western States is still a couple of years out for me," he said. "I have a lot more speed events to do. A 50k or 50 mile is still a speed event. You can do a lot of speed in a 50k."

Hamilton started with shorter distances before winning the popular Rock/Creek StumpJump 50K (just more than 31 miles) in 2014 and finding success in other ultra events, including a first-place finish and course record in December's Lookout Mountain 50 Miler.

Nathan Holland, another accomplished local ultra marathon runner, was 101st out of 254 finishers in the 2015 Western States Endurance Run and has seen Hamilton's progression. He recalled talking to him before his first 50K.

"I knew he could do it, and he crushed it," Holland said. "He doesn't just jump to the next big thing. He's pretty calculated in his approach, and when he's ready to make that leap to the 100-mile distance, I think he'll do fantastic."

While Hamilton continues working on his own running, he'll be helping instill a running culture at LaFayette, which is about 40 minutes away from his downtown home.

"Growing up in a culture where no one has anything tends to make you dream," he said. "I think that's what a lot of kids are lacking. They don't have the adversity that causes you to dream. You can bring that to them with cross country and track and put them in really hard workouts, where they don't know how to handle what's happening to their bodies.

"But eventually it'll get easier and easier. That's adversity training for leaders, and it's valuable."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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