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It was a dreary, cool, and windy day. It was my sister’s last Cross Country meet before Leagues. I wasn’t on the team; I decided that over summer vacation. I would play on the tennis team my freshman year of high school. I decided I’d like it better (but it was also partly because my friend was joining, and that a camp run by the coach was a week before practice started and I attended--I couldn’t just ditch the sport for another one, right?) Anyway, I wasn’t sure what sport I was going to be doing early in the summer, so the Cross Country coach put me on the roster.
“Lindsay, come here,” my mom called from a few yards away. I walked over. She was talking to coach Benyo.
“Hi,” he said in his grandfatherly voice. “I have you on the team’s roster, and I have a slot for you so you could run at Leagues, so if you want to, that’s fine. I’d really like if you could come and support us and run with us.” He smiled, creasing his pink face.
“Really?” I looked past his large glasses to his eyes. Was he joking? I didn’t think he was serious.
“Yeah, you’re right here.” he said, pointing to his clipboard. “We have the chip for you and everything.”
“Oh, okay. Cool. I’ll do it!” I said, confused and excited all at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect from Cross Country. Sure, I ran at home sometimes with my sister or mom, but never on a team where time counted, so it’d be a new experience.
For the next few days I attended XC practice, and it was fun.
On the first day we ran from the high school to Germantown to Front Street and back. I ran with Brii and Emily and Eric. We were our own pack. We saw Coach down in Germantown, guarded by the rain by his jacket, waiting for us to arrive.
“Are ya okay?” he asked us.
We nodded. “Yup,” we replied, and headed back to the school.
I was sort of perplexed by the way he was so kind and understanding. When he said “Are you okay?” he actually meant it. He truly wanted to know if we were alright. You usually don’t have a coach like that. They usually just say, “Okay, good job, kid.” if you did well or “You need to do this, you have to do that, get your head in the game!” if you did poorly... and they don’t even really mean it. With so many kids to think about, coaches usually don’t care about each and every player, but Coach Benyo does.
On the second day we had a short run. Just up Center Street and back down North to the High School. We needed fresh legs for Leagues tomorrow. It was a very short run, but even so, Coach asked us if we were okay. He cared about us--even me, and I had just joined the team about two days ago.
“Are you excited? Nervous?”
“No, not really,” I replied to my mom. “I don’t know, I’m never really nervous until it’s already happening.”
That was true. When I would sing, I would know the show was on Thursday for the entire week, but I didn’t start getting nervous until I was backstage about to go on. It was the same for everything. The night before the League meet for the Cross Country Team was no different.
I woke up on October 19 and I decided that I was excited... until I heard it. The “pit-pat, pit-pat” of raindrops on the roof sounded like a million tiny mice dancing to their favorite song. I frowned and sighed as I realized that the forecasts of the week were right, and it would be a gloomy day.
It’s already raining. The course is going to be a wreck, I thought to myself as I got ready. The day was already looking down, and so was the thermometer. It was a mere 39? degrees, and the rain would make it even colder. I knew it would be a hard time running in the cold, but I decided to make the best of it.
The XC Team boarded the bus that morning at 11:15 and left for Tuscarora. We arrived after a long 30 minutes to find an assortment of other buses already arranged in two jumbled lines. We escaped the hot and stuffy bus in a hurry only to regret the decision when we received a harsh welcome from Mother Nature. But we had to stay outside for the time being. We had to walk the course.
Erin and Kayla--seniors and friends of mine and my sister’s--went to the bathroom along with me and Becca--a junior that could no longer run due to a new unknown medical problem. When we got out, we found everyone gone. They had started to walk the course without us. I didn’t really mind--Erin and Kayla were taking me and giving me pointers along the way, pointers I probably wouldn’t have gotten otherwise--but it seemed that they cared. They seemed like they were completely outraged with the fact that the rest of the team left without us.
“If I were you, I’d be really mad, ‘cause you’re running first!” Kayla commented.
“And you’ve never been here before either!” Erin chimed in.
They seemed like angry siblings ranting about their annoying brother. It wasn’t surprising though. The whole team is a family. They get frustrated with each other and get mad when they do something they don’t like. They care about everyone on the team. I love that about the Cross Country Team.
When we finished walking the course, they went to the bathroom again and I went back to the bus. I needed to stretch and get ready for the race. I took off my swishy red jacket and blue windbreaker pants and folded them up on top of my bag. I reluctantly stepped off the bus in only my shiny blue shorts and white tank top that read “JIM THORPE” in all red caps diagonally across the front. I shivered and started jogging up to the starting line, trying to keep myself warm.
I stretched my legs and arms quickly and got into position with the rest of the team. There had to be 14 other teams there, each with about 8 people. I was starting to get nervous, like I always do right before something’s about to happen. I jumped in place as a bald man (who sort of resembled Franklin from the Environmental Center) rambled about thunder and precautions and other stuff. He stepped out of the way of the lanes and shot the gun into the air. I started running.
I started out slow because I knew there was a hill in less than a ¼ mile and I didn’t want to already be panting like a dog when I got there. I sped up after I got past the small slope, wanting to pass a few girls who were going at a turtle’s pace. I reached the hill and I sped up more. I passed many people in the woods, and it felt so much shorter at this speed than when we walked it.
I got to a point in the woods where I remember Kayla said “I feel like this is the point where, if you really want it, you go.” “It” doesn’t have just one meaning--it could mean so many different things to different people. In my case, “it” was pride. I wanted to make the team proud. I wanted it.
I sped up and came out of the woods. the grassy slope was much easier to run now than it was when we jogged it during our walk. I raised my one arm like Brii does when I went down the small but steep hill. It really did make me more balanced. I opened my stride on the long downward slope of a hill and was glad I was going down it instead of up.
After a while, I reached the small bridge that lead to the last stretch of flat woods. I could feel myself getting a bit slower. I tried to go faster anyway. I was almost finished. I only needed to reach the top of the small hill and back over to the end. When I reached a girl that was walking on the hill, she started running again, but I didn’t care if she came before me. I was having fun.
I ran through the parking lot and down the small slope once more. I could hear someone getting closer to me, so I sped up just a bit so that she couldn’t pass me.
We were on the last stretch when I heard an unfamiliar voice say “Come on! You can pass her! You can catch her, come on!”
That only motivated me to go faster. I sped up a little more, but she did too. Then we were going the same speed. I tried to speed up. She was going faster. I tried to move my legs more quickly. She passed me. I kept sprinting.
I crossed the finish line at 27 minutes even. I didn’t care that that girl passed me. I didn’t care that even more girls came ahead of me. I had fun, and most of all, I finally felt like I was a part of a the best sports team in Jim Thorpe.