What Cross Country Taught Me About Running and High School

Olivia Baker In the final weeks of the summer, the weary individuals of the Latin cross country team assembled on the steps of the high school for preseason, reluctant to utilize the muscles that mostly remained untapped for the summer. As the upperclassmen greeted old friends and mingled without age-barriers, the freshmen gathered in a close huddle, occasionally broken by previously established and newly revisited relationships.   With the school year underway, the close-knit team now heads to the their warm-ups as an intermixed group of grades, with once shy, unadjusted freshmen, now fully a part of the cross country community.   But we must not neglect the process us rookies underwent to mature into both the runners and high schoolers we are today.   Running itself, though labeled by many as “torture,” is confirmed by fellow runners to have been instrumental to the high school transition. Kenny Moll, a freshman who came to Latin from City Day, agrees that “participating in cross country has helped [him] meet new people that [he] would not have met without cross country. Cross country practices are athletic and social events. It helps to run with new and old students to get a sense of both views and to make new types of friends.”   Kenny claims to have met some of his best friends during preseason.   Because a large number of talented upperclassmen are on the team, freshmen are able to learn from their elders’ achievements.   And the experienced runners are more than willing to teach their formulas for success.   Freshman Robert Kelly depicts how upperclassmen not only influenced his work ethic, but also his view on cross country.   “Many upperclassmen told me tips and tricks for time management, such as starting with your hardest homework first because you will be less tired earlier in the day, and to use your free periods. Also, having to condition ourselves in practice was a fitting metaphor for homework.”   “If you don’t show up to practice or do your homework, the only person you’re cheating is yourself,” explained Robert when asked to elaborate on this metaphor.   “If I missed a day of practice I would wind up feeling unprepared for meets, so I made sure not to miss any homework.”   These veteran freshmen were inclined to take us under their wings, establishing strong friendships and bonds; entering the school year, we knew we had older students looking out for us. Julian Lee-Zacheis, a Latin student since junior kindergarten, explains his experience with preseason and the influence on his friendships. “Cross country helped my transition because it gave me an additional group of friends to hang out with, many of whom are upperclassmen.”   Cross country is not simply a sport or a social gathering, but a learned mind-set that teaches “mental toughness,” as Coach Daly says. Throughout the early mornings of preseason, beyond just training our bodies to run with contention, our brains were preparing to compete, building mental integrity that will be of use in our academic lives. A recent graduate from Lincoln Elementary and newcomer to Latin Amanda Aprati offers her thoughts on the essence of running. “Racing and cross country in general is rooted greatly around personally pushing yourself farther than you think is possible. It’s all mental. It’s so easy to stop running, but mentally knowing that you can run the extra mile is important.”   The extra mile has certainly been reached in the past four meets, in which our team has scored prominently, Simon Ricci leading the boys team and Laura Katunas the girls. Our first meet, a 2-mile race, saw us as the victors, with many of us bringing home ribbons—including a considerable amount of freshmen. The next race, the Hokum Karem relay, was slightly more difficult given our strong competitors and the rainy weather, but we still managed to finish well with Senior Simon Ricci and Freshman David Hafner getting 7th place out of over 50 teams.   Our next race, at Katherine Legge Park, was also run in the rain and across difficult terrain. The team placed only relatively high with the exception of a few individually earned ribbons.   Most recently, we traveled to Peoria to run the course of our state meet, the team gathering at the early hour of five o’clock to board the bus. During our first consecutive three-mile race, many Latin runners achieved PRs (personal records), and both Simon Ricci and Laura Katunas placed within the top 50 runners of their races. Our season still young, and the freshmen still somewhat new, the team looks onward to future competitions and friendships created as an outcome of cross country. The agreement at Latin for freshmen is to join a fall sport, for late August offers a surplus of friendship; no matter the individual or the sport, making new friends and learning new things is inevitable.]]>