We were driving to dinner, and I was talking about the state meet coming up, and how this girl was DQ’d from regionals for taking off her hair band and putting it on her wrist.
“You really like this sport, don’t you?”, my wife said.
It wasn’t always like that. From what I remember from my school days, the cross country kids were the dorky ones who couldn’t play ball sports. No one really followed, or cared about, what the cross country team did.
So when my daughter announced that she wanted to run cross country her freshman year, and not play soccer, I was initially (and selfishly) disappointed. She’d played soccer on club teams since age 7 or 8. I had visions of going and watching all the high school games for 4 years.
But fortunately I recognized that it would be fruitless to try to influence her. At the time, I didn’t know how important cross country would become to her, and how much I would come to love the sport.
At the very first meet, standing around while the runners were nervously warming up, I watched a girl casually walk over a garbage can … and puke in it. And then go back to warming up. I remember thinking, “OK, this is a bad-ass sport.”
It’s roughly 20 minutes of intense effort (less for the faster runners, more for the slower ones). I can relate to that level of effort, because it’s around the same as our weekly Thursday night time trial. Short enough that it’s painful from start to finish. And long enough that it seems like forever.
What hooked me was the atmosphere and intensity at the meets. The pre-race nervousness, the anxiety on the start line, the starter’s pistol firing and the pack taking off. And then the drama of the race as it unfolds.
Unlike soccer, where the field is the same every week, each cross country course is different, and run under different conditions — rain, mud, heat, cold, hills, puddles. I’ve seen runners lose shoes, throw up, pass out, crumple with injury.
And then there was the girl (against whom my daughter’s team had raced) who finished the 2007 state meet crawling to the finish with a broken leg. (the video is on YouTube but is not for the faint-of-heart)
For my daughter, it was mostly about the team. Individual performance mattered, but overall it was the team. I will always have the picture of the team huddle just before the start.
She was team captain her last 3 years, and I watched her transform from an insecure freshman into someone who took charge and pushed each girl and the team to the best of their capabilities.
Watching those meets had the side-effect of making me want to run in the off-season. Each year since 2007 I’ve run more and more. I’m almost at the point where I think of myself as a “runner” too. So I can thank the sport, and my daughter, for that.
The state meet is today, and I will be checking the web site for results.