Finish Line

February 2, 2008
By Hailey Smith, Post Falls, ID

You could say I was destined to run. Even as a spirited two-year-old, that was what I did…especially in the middle of tumbling class, where I made a hilarious habit out of escaping from my instructor and the class.
This so-called destiny of mine continued throughout elementary school as I began to run cross-country during my fifth grade year. My school at the time, Ponderosa Elementary, offered cross-country running as its first-ever school sport. Since I was interested and enjoyed running as well as playing sports, I signed up.
Every day of practice was something to look forward to. Cross-country was a blast with drills, games, and friends, but it was also a time where I truly dove into running, an activity I had never tried before. Though I never literally ran across the country, I did run a mile, and a sturdy eight-minute mile at that. Soon the season ended with its final meet (where I placed third), but I never stopped running.
During my fifth grade cross-country season, Dad and I started to go running to local parks and even an intimidating water tower hill, regardless of rain or shine, summer or winter. Whether we ran a mile or Bloomsday (12 km or 7.46 miles), we always ran together as a team, congratulating each other afterwards with energetic high fives. He would set the pace and raise the bar, continuously encouraging me to do my very best, even when it hurt. Dad taught me to force myself through the pain, make myself uncomfortable, and to run against myself, not the clock. By doing this, Dad also taught me lessons for life. Running with him inspired me immensely to improve and to apply his advice the best as I could.
Directly following spring break of the same year, Ponderosa Elementary introduced another running program, which motivated me to continue to run, track my progress, and reward myself. I became so engrossed that I ran each day and almost every recess, accumulating miles rapidly—not to mention a growing passion and love for the sport. In just over two months, I logged over sixty miles (sixty-three and one-half to be precise).
My experiences as a runner continued when I entered the sixth grade at Post Falls Middle School and its cross-country team. Middle school races were trickier in that the courses included extreme hills, dirt trails, and a longer distance to match, but I did my best through it all, swiftly improving.
Seventh grade brought its challenges as I juggled piano, cheerleading, dancing, and cross-country, but I refused to give up on my dream of someday placing in the top ten. I was committed, and someday my dreams were bound to happen. Nothing would stand in my way.
You can bet Dad and I endlessly spent our weekends running. I gained strength and ground constantly. In envisioning myself thriving, I found my flame—the spark that kept me going.
As I run, there is a feeling of fierce pride, unflinching will, and majestic power. I leave the world behind and fly. Just fly. All I hear is the beating of my heart and the sweet sound of my shoes slapping the trail. Running has the most beneficial rewards of anything I know of. Rewards like confidence and health. Rewards like motivation and positive self-esteem. Rewards like joy, and for that alone I am thankful.
Season after season I had clenched the sport, wishing to reform myself, progress, and pick up wherever I had left off; now was my time. This past year, my eighth grade year, was my last year of Post Falls Middle School cross-country, and my first real opportunity to place in the tough top ten. I put in my time at practice, after school, and on the weekends, developing myself mentally and physically more than ever before. Now was my time. Cross-country was no longer about the pulse, the pace, or the competitors: it was about my determination, my desire, and my victory of shattering that mental window. It was about overcoming the clock, surmounting the challenge, and defining my eagerness to triumph.
Over time, I sharpened my desire and determination. I destroyed my personal records, persevered more for excellence, exposed my true joy, and had the most pleasure out of any season. Placing not only once, not twice, but three times in the top ten (including a ninth place steal for my fourteenth birthday!), I reached my highest level, though I was there from the very start, in my book, for making my dreams leap alive.
I look back on my freshman year of cross-country with absolutely no regrets. This year, I strived to perfect my form, I overcame my mental obstructions, I conquered my nerves, and I pursued my dream of lettering. With every coming race, I envisioned myself sprinting through that finish line chute with my integrity fulfilled. Now, as I reflect my first high school season of cross-country, I am amazed with the incredible people I met, the coaches that encouraged me, the memories I created, the effort I put forth, the improvements I made, and the footsteps I left behind for future runners to step into. The medal I earned in Moscow, Idaho, when I finished sixth in the freshman girls' race, the Scholar Athlete certificate I now cherish, and the first letter on my letterman's jacket will never let me forget, even for an instant, the person I have become through running.
Cross-country may look like it is about running, and in all truth it is, but it is also beyond it. Cross-country is about persistency, even when I feel like giving up. Cross-country is about driving past what I think I can do, and discovering my potential. The multiple lessons I have learned from this sport, like citizenship, sportsmanship, perseverance, and belief in myself, will make me forever a better person in whole. For these reasons I will always be running, whether it is in my studies, my career, or my life. I will never stop running.
My father opened my eyes and taught me what it means to genuinely run and how the concepts of cross-country relate to life. Now, to me, cross-country is more than a sport, and from it I have learned that it is never over at the finish line.

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