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Thinking about my baseball championship in 2009 got me thinking about some of my other youth sporting highlights. One of the first things that came to my mind was my cross country career.
While I was in grade school, cross country was available to participate in for fifth through eighth graders. Trying to stay active, I decided to give it a try.
It was a short season — we would train all of September and early October. There would be only one meet in mid-October where all the local grade schools in our conference participated in.
In order to get ready to the meet, I would run around the block in my neighborhood. It was always grueling, but it was important to get in shape for the big race. Practices were hard as well.
Another nice part was getting out of school on race day. We’d get out early and return late in the day towards the end of classes.
We had a nice little group of runners. The race was always on a Wednesday afternoon and it was usually cold and even rainy. The perfect conditions for running, right? Nonetheless I was pretty excited.
I’m one of those gamers. Whether it’s a sprint, a mile run, a basketball game or ping-pong, I want to show up and do my best. I’m competitive and like to prove people wrong.
Grades 5-7 ran one mile and eighth graders ran a mile and a half. The course was like any cross country course. It was a long trail that circled a pond of some sort and was very scenic. I believe it took two laps around the whole thing to complete a mile.
The hardest parts were the hills that you had to run up and down. It tested you and you had to power through those hills.
One of the best parts was running by the start line after your first lap. That’s where everyone was standing and cheering for you. Parents, classmates, teachers, etc. They were all there.
Grades went in order. Fifth grade girls ran first, followed by fifth grade boys. Then sixth grade girls and sixth grade boys. So when I reached eighth grade, it was fun to see all the other grades root for me and my fellow eighth graders. All the other schools rooted for their own classmates.
My goal was always to stay with my friend Riley. He was a little bit faster than me and I knew that if I stayed close to him, I’d end up with a good time.
I did a pretty good job sticking with him, but he always started to pull away towards the middle to back end of the race. I still felt good about my position, but I was always gasping for air, if I’m being honest.
The final 20 meters of the race was down a hill, so it was relieving to run down the hill towards the finish. The only part I had to worry about was not falling down the hill because I had wobbly legs after being so tired.
Usually I finished right in the middle. If there were 20 runners I finished around 10th place. If there were 30 runners, 15th place. I was happy with my times and I was proud of myself for accomplishing this feat (especially since I turned into a sprinter a few years later).
The mile and a half in eighth grade was especially tough, but it was fun since it was my last cross country race of my grade school career — the last dance.
Upon returning to school, my friends always asked me how I did and I enjoyed the rest of the shortened day.
The running was tough, but I enjoyed those cross country races. They were a great opportunity to stay in shape, have some fun competition, get outdoors and enjoy time with my teammates.
Even though it was always cold and/or rainy, that was tradition. We all had to power through the elements and it felt like October. Once a Cougar, always a Cougar.