"I'm excited and scared at the same time," Kirk said. "I'm expected to do well, so I fear not doing well. It's kind of hard. Just thinking about it, it's been on my mind the whole month. What if I don't do well?
"As the summer went on, I was realizing how everyone was waiting for me to heal and I got more frustrated and more frustrated."
Kirk never expected his success last season. He went into the Meet of Champions just hoping to receive a medal for a top-15 finish. He never expected to place sixth, which he did after running the 3.1-mile Holmdel course in 15 minutes, 56 seconds.
"I don't know how it happened," Kirk said. "I had good training, and I guess I do have some sort of natural talent, as well. I just kept getting better throughout the season. I just kept dropping chunks of time each meet."
"His total focus now is becoming the best runner in New Jersey," Camden Catholic coach Dennis Quinn said.
Kirk started pushing himself for the first time over the last two weeks. He finished second in the Open Group at the Shore Coaches Invitational, also at Holmdel, on Oct. 5 before winning Division 1 at the South Jersey Open at Delsea.
Kirk still is building toward the Meet of Champions, scheduled for Nov. 23, and he feels as if he's on track after all the setbacks.
"I think at this point last year my times were better, but I'm more fit this year," Kirk said. "I definitely want to do better than I did last year. I hope to catch up within the next couple weeks. Then, once the Meet of Champions comes around, hopefully do better."
"He's very resilient," assistant coach Kevin McDonald said. "Every day, he comes back with a great attitude. . . . I think the world of Kyle Kirk."
Kirk looks at his season as one that is more challenging mentally. He feels healthy, but needs to overcome his mental holdups. His coaches have told him he belongs at the top of New Jersey's best cross-country runners.
"They've been telling me you've been training this way and you can do this," Kirk said. "I just need to believe it."
At the very least, Kirk no longer has to wait. He doesn't have to sit poolside and worry about losing time. Now, he can go out and try to live up to those expectations.