BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Seventh-grader Brandon Liu has a habit of succeeding at just about everything he tries.
He’s bashful about it, but his big sister, Niskayuna High School junior Veronica Liu, can’t help but brag about her little brother.
“As his sister, I know how anxious and worried he gets before each competition, but when the pressure’s on, he really shines!” Veronica said in an email, when she nominated her little brother for this week’s Student Spotlight.
Unlike high school, where Niskayuna students tend to sharpen their focus on a few activities and try to rise to the top in each one, both Veronica and Brandon described middle school as a time when kids can try lots of new things and explore their talents.
And as it turns out, Brandon has a lot of them.
He started running cross country and track at Iroquois Middle School earlier this year, and found out he liked it. Not long ago, he won the Niskayuna Baseball First Pitch 5K by completing the course in about 22 minutes.
He entered the race at the last minute to support a friend, who emailed him and told him the start time would be 9 a.m.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know, it’s pretty early,’ ” Brandon said. But he finds running fun, so he made time for the race. Coming in first was extra, he said, a little embarrassed by his big sister’s pride. He said since he’s been playing soccer since early elementary school, he didn’t really pick up running out of the blue. It’s natural for him.
Soccer may explain away a little of Liu’s easy excellence in running, but there’s little crossover between soccer and kung fu, or soccer and viola. Earlier this year, after about a year and a half of martial arts lessons, Brandon won third place in the International Martial Arts Tournament in New Jersey.
“I did pretty well,” he admitted. “I was really nervous. I’m pretty small for my age.”
His secret seems to be a combination of self-awareness and unobtrusive ego.
“I want to see what other sports are like,” Brandon said. “They’re fun, but some of them don’t fit me because I’m smaller and lighter.”
Soccer, which he plays with a travel team in Niskayuna, and wrestling, which he participates in at school, fit the bill. Football is probably never going to be his thing.
Music, however, has turned out to be a successful pursuit.
Brandon’s first audition for the Empire State Youth Orchestra, a highly competitive music group for students all over the Capital Region, was just a year after he started playing trumpet and viola. He was in sixth grade, and had started his instruments when he was in fifth.
“I wasn’t expecting to get in because I only had one year of viola experience,” he said. But he made it into the string ensemble, and the following year, he earned a chair in the repertory orchestra, an even bigger feat.
Again, he plays it down, as his sister sits beside him on the couch in their Windsor Drive home and does the bragging for him.
“I just like to try new things,” he said. “I’m afraid to get hurt and stuff, but I just try and make the best of it.”
As he heads into his eighth grade year at Iroquois, Brandon has advice for fifth-graders facing their first big school transition: Don’t worry too much.
“Once you get there, you see a lot of your old friends,” he said. “It won’t be too hard.”