Cross Country Champions

Michael Gross

“Welcome to the Latin School Cross Country team, it is up to you to be champions.”

That is what coach Dan Daly said on the first day of practice; it is what he has said for the past 24 years. In the matter of 5 years, the definition of “champions” changed – the state meet went from a dream to an expectation, and both cross country teams now find themselves among the elite in the 1A division. As you all know from this week’s assembly or the fall sports banquet, both teams racked in a lot of hardware this season, but it meant more than the sectional and regional plaques – the season, and the sport, is the epitome of what Coach Daly said on the first day.

In cross country, it is not only up to you to be a champion, but it is also up to each runner to decide what a champion is.  The slowest runner on the team’s definition of being a champion could be to set a personal record (PR), whereas the fastest runner’s definition is to win the race. Cross country is the only sport where there is no bench – if you want to run, there is always race for you. It is also the only objective sport – the seven fastest runners are on varsity, no coach’s favorites.

A common misconception is that cross country is not a team sport, and while there is certainly a significant individual aspect, the teamwork plays just as a big of a role in success. Cross country is scored by adding the places of the first 5 runners, and the lowest score wins. So, even if you have a dominant 1st runner, if the next four are not as strong, the team will never go far. The other members on the team also provide a sense of motivation – you want to run for your teammates because you know that they are going through the same pain. And while there might be competition during the race and workouts, when it is all said and done, you all have the same goal: to be “champions” – whatever that might mean.

Cross country also teaches mental resiliency. When people ask me why I run, they are basically asking me why I put myself through that kind of pain. Typically around the 2-mile mark, you reach a point in the 3-mile race where it is no longer a matter of physicality. That last mile is all mental – when you feel like you cannot go any faster, you have to convince yourself that you can and will not die of exhaustion at the end of the race. Each race you hit this mental block, and within minutes of finishing, you forget the feeling, as you head into the next week of practice trying to simulate in order to be ready for the next race. Cross country is like a mental strength conditioning course; when finished with your tenure, you will be more than capable of dealing with life’s obstacles.

This past season, more than any other, solidified why I do the sport. The first response I get when I tell people I run cross country, is “why do you run?” My answer was always the feeling crossing the finish line.” But, does the meaningfulness of cross country go beyond the satisfaction you get when finishing a race? After this season, I can confidently answer yes to that question. This season we dealt with some adversities outside of the races themselves. After a historic 2012 season, the expectations were through the roof for 2013 – we lost only one varsity runner, and our once-young, deep class of 2015 were now juniors and even stronger. But, the first few meets did not go as planned for the boys team, and a lack of PR’s and apparent injuries discouraged our and others future expectations. Just like at the end of a race, we were resilient, having faith that all this hard work would pay off. By the time we entered the postseason, people outside our team still doubted us, but we had regained our confidence.

Last Sunday, we met as a team for the final time in the 2013 season. Amidst the celebration, and slight excitement of the pending break from running, Coach Daly reminded us of his message on the first day, “I am extremely proud of how you guys dealt with outside expectations, and how you had faith in your teammates that we could become champions.” As coach reiterated, becoming champions was up to us, and regardless of the separate definitions, we took what was rightfully ours.]]>