You’ve all been to the course and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. (I Corinthians 9:24-25)
With apologies to Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times…”
I recently had the pleasure and great honor to have two of my All-State Cross-Country teams inducted into their high school athletic Hall of Fame.
I took even greater pleasure and felt honored by the stories and memories several of them shared with the audience. To them, running was fun. It was cathartic. It became an attitude—a way of life. One they learned from those who ran before them and then passed on to those who followed.
I think the most notable thing during that time of sharing was what I didn’t hear. They rarely mentioned the meets they won or the championships they earned. If there was a funny story involved, or a lesson to be learned from a particular race, then it was alright to share it. Otherwise, the topics ranged from the stories they shared, the friendships formed, the lessons learned and the effect their running experience had on their lives.
These were guys that had married, had children, had furthered their education and worked at a variety of jobs. But they all started as kids from a little school in north-central Massachusetts.
Narragansett Regional is a small Massachusetts high school with a population of 382 students. This opposed to, let’s say, Brockton High which checks in with 4,174 students. The numbers range down from there for all 1,854 schools in Massachusetts. This gives you some idea of the enormity of their accomplishment. But we had one “advantage.” By a special dispensation from the State, 7th and 8th-graders were eligible to try out for the varsity teams. Imagine the “advantage” that gave us—running 12 and 13-year-olds against teams with 30-40 members, many whom were upper classmen. Not only that, but our athletes could also choose football, soccer or golf. It left a small pool of athletes to choose from.
But compete we did. From 7th grade on. And each year, we got better. And soon, the older runners were looking out for the younger. Members of the same family began to join. Former runners became coaches. A tradition was created. And the expectations began to rise to the point where any loss was considered an insult to the program.
I suppose there was a certain amount of arrogance involved. But is it arrogance if you really are better than everyone else? We would always “jog” the course before any meet. Intimidating? How about having brutal workouts the day before a meet? Or climbing Mt. Monadnock twice the day of a meet? Or running in championship meets with a broken arm or a broken toe? We worked hard and believed we worked harder than anyone else. Ergo, we should win. If we didn’t, it meant that we needed to work harder. And we did. And, by the way, our girls’ team was right with us each day working just as hard. We had dozens of trails we named that ranged from ¾ of a mile to 10+ miles. We ran on trails, on dirt roads, on tar roads, through swamps and rivers, on trails and off trails, up 60-degree inclines and down the same ones. We ran distance, middle distance and sprints. We did repeat workout for every distance up to a mile. And we did it regardless of the weather. It actually seemed like the meets were our easy days
I know this must sound like all work and no play. We worked hard and played hard—nearly every day. Yet, it was fun. We enjoyed beating on each other and ragging on each other and sometimes even fighting with each other. But we all had each other’s backs. We could harass each other, but anyone from the outside did so at their own risk.
Notice I used “we” through most of this writing. The teams we honored treated me as more than just a coach and I truly appreciated it. So, they worked their tails off and I went along for the ride.
And what a ride it was!