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Lasting Impressions Staring at the 800 meter straightaway at the beginning of the five kilometer course, where
people chanted my name and held up signs of encouragement, all happy to have been able to leave school to see our state cross-country meet, tears began to fill my eyes. It would be my last race with the Cross-Country Team. As I entered the huddle with our coach and the six other guys who had been chosen to run states, I began to break down even further. I couldn’t believe it was almost over. I had come so far with this team, transforming myself from a shy, un-athletic, and lacking in confidence freshman to a confident senior leader with the potential state-winning title team. Looking around at the six younger guys, all of whom would still be a part of the team after today, I remembered the commitment I had made to help us win a state championship. I had worked too hard to want anything less. I was ready.
On the days leading up to the state meet, I was constantly visualizing my race. I knew it would be my last time running my high school course so I wanted to make it count. In every part of the day, the thought of the state meet entered my mind. I was constantly checking the team and individual rankings to try to get a better idea of the competition. I figured that a top ten finish was potentially within my grasp.
During the week of states, my advisor gave the thought of the day in assembly. Referencing a presentation in which he gave us a quote from his friend who was killed in Iraq several years ago; “Never quit on the uphill.” I instantly thought of the McAlpine course hill that had always been difficult for me. I knew that the if I wanted to have a great race and help lead my team to a State Championship then I would have to not quit on the uphill at McAlpine.
On the night before the race, I learned that upwards of around 150 students, teachers, and teammates would be attending our race. I couldn’t believe it. Over my past four seasons, we
were reluctant to see five fans at one of our races. I had worked so hard, running everyday after school over the past four years and I knew that I could finally show everyone my passion, dedication, and competitiveness through my final race. The next day was going to be full of emotion. That night, despite the anticipation of my final high school race, I did sleep.
I arrived at the park nearly an hour before any of my teammates did. It was a cold, windy morning. The race would not start for another three hours. As I walked up to the starting line, to the course that I had raced dozens of times throughout my high school career, I felt calm. I was not going to let my nerves overwhelm myself, still hours before the race. People soon began arriving at the park, creating a more lively mood around our team. When the fan bus arrived, I soon began to realize that so many people came to support me.
Back at the starting line, everyone began to move towards their assigned boxes as the race was about to start. No more tears, only one more race, I was focused. The gun sounded and the race was off. The crowd immediately began screaming and amongst all the noise I found myself amidst the lead pack. I tried to stay as relaxed as possible throughout the first mile, not letting my emotions take hold of my race. At the one mile marker, I came through at 5:04 with people I had never been able to keep up with throughout the course of the season. Soon after, we began approaching the McAlpine Hill, the most challenging part of the race. I told myself “never quit on the uphill.” With the cheers of all of my friends pulling towards and then up and over the hill I remained in tact with the top group of runners.
I could still hear everyone as I ran around the lake but as I entered the back mile, the third and last mile of the course, it was quiet. I came through the second mile in a time of 10:16, much faster than I have ever entered the back mile of the course. Around the lake, I lost some ground on the lead pack but I was determined to get it back. And I did. As I ran through the back mile, emotions of my last race grew and began pushing me back to the front. With 600 meters left, I began to hear the screams of my friends and teammates. Exhausted, I looked
around at the three other runners that were with me, realizing that I was about to accomplish something great. The three runners that were with me, competing for third through sixth place, including my sophomore teammate Ben, had all run much faster times than I had. Even several runners behind me were also much faster than I.
As I neared the lake, giving into the pain and exhaustion of the race, I began to tell myself that it was okay if I were to finish behind these guys, it would still be a good race and nobody really expects me to beat them either. Approaching the right final stretch, I had fallen behind the three other runners. I was exhausted, I just wanted to be done. I would be content with sixth place, that finish was better than I had ever finished at states and this was the fastest state championship group of runners in history.
Just before I was about move into cruise control for the last two hundred meters, I began, once again, hearing the cheers of the Cross-Country team's fan base. I couldn’t give anything less than by best, especially not in front of practically everyone that I knew. I almost immediately began moving into a full sprint. Every part of my body was exhausted as I passed my teammate, who I had not beaten all year. I knew I couldn’t stop, especially thinking of the possiblity that my team might need one less point. I kept gaining ground until I passed for fourth place still around 100 meters from the finish. I was determined to maintain that lead until the finish.
That one point proved to be meaningless to the final score as we won our 2nd straight NCISAA State Title by 17 points’ but my final kick was a great way to finish to not only a great race with a new personal best time of 16:03 but also a fantastic career as a Cross-Country Athlete. I knew that I had left a great final impression on this program.
After exhaustedly walking down the shoot away from my final high school race, I was immediately met by all my friends.
Everyone was so happy for me, not because I had finished my career as the fastest runner on the team, but because they saw that I had given everything I
had in my last race after I had worked so hard for four years. Although I am going to miss the Cross-Country team, the most important
thing is that I am leaving proud of what I have accomplished. While it is always a relief to reach the destination at the finish line, it is much more important to remember how I got there; hard work, commitment, and a tremendous amount of support from my friends and family.