“I don’t get no respect!” often asserted the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
While plenty of people believe that quote also applies to them, I’m confident cross country runners are among those who can readily relate to that sentiment.
How many oohs and aahs do football players receive when striding into a gymnasium for a high school pep fest, all muscle-bound biceps, thick necks and masculine swagger? And when it comes to October Sunday afternoons or Monday nights, we all know it’s not runners for whom millions of Americans are cheering.
Nevertheless, hundreds of high school kids across the state of Minnesota and around the U.S. engage in cross country–which involves training for speed and endurance to race against other runners, typically on golf courses or in parks–from August through October.
“Our sport is your sport’s punishment,” boasts many a cross country team’s season t-shirt.
Two of my children have been cross country kids, so as a parent I’ve come to appreciate the dedication cross country athletes give to their sport, and also the sense of fun and camaraderie cross country fans enjoy as they dash from spot to spot on bumpy cross country courses, staying on the move at all times in order to assess the race’s progress and the placement of various runners along the course.
There are no bleachers for cross country spectators, nor is there relief from the elements. Similarly, there are no benchwarmers in cross country–every athlete gets to run, and the event becomes as much a competition against one’s own previous best time and finishing place as it is about the team score or who clocked in among the top 10.
Watching at the finish line is always a thrill, whether it’s seeing the lone stellar runner (even if not from one’s own team) giving it his or her all as an uncontested Number One–no matter if no one else is in hot pursuit–or cheering a slower but persistent athlete who is achieving a great deal, both personally and otherwise, by finishing at all.
In recent years, it was exciting to see Mubarik Musa, a standout runner for the Worthington High School team and a state champion, often falling into that first category. Mubarik, who now runs and excels for the University of South Dakota, invariably had an expression of sheer determination and effort on his face. It was never enough for him that he was in the lead, or that the closest runner was 30 seconds or more behind him–that was no excuse for him to stop striving and improving.
Equally heartwarming was that Mubarik stayed at the finish line to cheer on each of his team members as they arrived, his broad, toothy smile again firmly in place.
Last Wednesday–one day later than originally scheduled, due to inclement Tuesday weather–the WHS cross country team both hosted and performed at the Southwest Conference tournament at Prairie View Golf Links. Besides the great spirit and sportsmanship exhibited by the WHS athletes (many of them also sang the National Anthem at the meet’s opening, and several assisted in passing out trophies/certificates at its close), I was grateful for the dedication and enthusiasm displayed by the athletes’ parents, who cooperated to run a successful concession stand and make the meet more enjoyable for all attendees.
Coaches Ken Henkels and Lonnie Myrom also deserve credit for their consistent encouragement and support of their runners.
My sophomore daughter, Meredith, and her constant running partner, junior Alicia Darling, once again arrived in the chute nearly in tandem, managing to place (for the third consecutive year) among the Honorable Mention All-Conference athletes. On the boys’ side, Ammanuel Fissiha ran all the way to an All-Conference ranking, while teammates Matt Jirele and Anthony Luft added their names to the Honorable Mention All-Conference roster.
Their intrepid teammates all finished well, and they continue to run, come what may–in the rain, snow, chill or heat–through this Thursday’s Section 2AA meet against many tough teams in Buffalo.
The Trojan harriers may not get much respect, but they’re certainly not lacking for fitness, team spirit or Trojan pride. They’re all winners in my book.