XC – the Spiritual Aspect and Being Unbroken

I remember that one moment that ultimately was just a paradigm shift in all that I had know.  I have mentioned this before but I still can not forget the one particular moment that turned in my head like keys, in a combination of sequences that unlocked discovery. Dr. Danette DiMarco, World Literature, and authors I never, knew existed. I was surprised because up to this point I read ALOT, and yet there was a whole world of authors that had gone unknown to me all through my undergraduate experiences, and I did not want that to ever occur again, ever.  Margaret Atwood, Leslie Marmon Silko, Chinua Achebe, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  just to name a few, that would influence me forever.

That honestly is a small shock I had, not knowing much deeper life lessons would stand the test of time for being shocking, changing my life in a specific direction, or having a deep impact.  When my good friend passed away due to a suicide of not feeling any worth in this world, when I lost my father who represented a lot of that whole world, I instantly felt that I had to go on and live a life for them as well, two lives if you will.  Later I would lose students and colleagues that would even more deeply impact me.  To this day, I climb these mammoth stairs in the morning, mammoth being really, comparable to a small pyramid at the base of the Observatorio metro and bus station, maybe 350 minimum stairs? (I call them “Moctezuma stairs”).  And to this day, as I am almost out of steam, I hear an amazing coach – Vince Morris, I still hear his voice whisper, “You are alive – and can live the spirit of what I left for so many others to spread so don’t give up- you are alive!” and through his encouragement, as well as those mentioned above, if I go without living a life for them, I feel their spirit is wiped out, which they never intended.

All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I sat in the theatre, watching the preview of  McFarland – and it all came back to me.  There is one thing you might have a misconception about – Cross Country.  The sport is one that goes deeper than the dirt and wooded paths, deeper than the aches that initiate that first two weeks, gaining a uniform, and more than hearing your heart sometimes come up through your throat.  That is the practice, the training, and then somehow it just – melts and you are FREE. Absolutely 100% bonafide Free.  what heart weeks ago has turned into determination, what seems like simply running to run and finish a beginning and ending course?  Time to do soul searching, and trust me, you have a lot of time to think out there and become one with yourself and honest with your actions.

Cross Country running brought me closer to individuals that needed that time away from everything else to find themselves, yes, sometimes in involved pain  Yet, the physical sometimes matched the actual pain that people held inside trying to be found, sifted through, interpreted, and contemplated.  On a 5k course, in the woods, whether trying to catch up the that person’s shoulder ahead of you or sonly dealing with the pace of your body, your heart, your pulse, a truth begins to appear.  You are yourself on the course, very difficult to fake as all it laid out in the open, and so it is true of your time, your thoughts, your competing against  yourself.  It took me many many runs before I didn’t need headphones to concentrate, before I realize if I blotted out the runners around me and competed with myself, I naturally became better.

Stemming from the cross country moments came patience, fellowship, and communion.  No, we are not talking church, yet, there was something holy about the process of being a cross country runner.  We felt a solidarity and support whether the boys or the girls were competing, and the spaghetti dinners that occurred the night before a meet ? – They were the oat holy of all, because it brought some amazing pasta, some amazing sweet peach tea, and amazing individuals off the track.  The pain was the begging but it was easy to fade once you had a group of people that believed in you, and that you believed in.

I always found it fitting that we have a course at Chapel Branch, because we were always taught, honor the spaces where you find yourself and can sure it with others.  Honor, and honor it we did, among each other’s company.  We had, and I had my share of conflicts and yet, I would do it all over again just to have that feeling in my heart as I practiced, as I ran, as I watch boys and girls become men and women right on the course.  Everything you need to succeed in life could be found in the practices, the events, the times we got together, Cross Country brought it all together for me.

I laugh at how many times I asked Coach Smith and Coach Doakes to get in my head that the highest score does not mean the winner, but the lowest.  Funny, that has applied to many of the moments where I have been at my owes point, and those have helped me ale the best decisions to go on to succeed.  From triplets, to athletes that were built like a tank and still defied the times, to brothers, to swimmers, to nurses, to future teachers to coaches wise beyond their years – Cross Country was my second religion.  I could send that in the film McFarland, and am more excited than these paragraphs show about that.

I would hope that one day some of those athletes we experiences these moments with will take that and make a comeback either on the course of in life based on those very moments.  I am slowly making a comeback with my running and it is exciting to see so.  Also holding those very days and weeks of competing, laughing, and growing, I can never let go, and I hope a piece of that remains with everyone that was involved. Yes, those that gave little effort or failed to endure what enduring would do for them, have less to experience in their life, whether they realized that then or now, again the course and the meets themselves?  Just practice for life when we would all move on.

Not to say there were some down and out hysterical moments.  Consider the time we did a Chinese Fire Drill and I ran the whole course with my braces pretty much buried in my lower lip – and someone’s head bleeding from my teeth finding their head in the wrong direction doing the Chinese fire drill, the athlete from update in the Port o Potty supposedly yelling and moaning to his bowel movements for all of the state teams competing to hear, to our own teammates on the sidelines making up names and encouraging them on for every single runner, and then Bull Run.  You have to see it to believe it.  The challenges could add up in a hurry, but never so much as what each of us walked away with at the end of a meet, practice, or long day of running and baring our soul to others and to ourselves.

In seeing the film Unbroken, all of the above elements and beyond take hold. So many unknown elects at first surface.  Angelina Jolie as director, the Cohen Brothers involved with this production, and the legendary Olympic and life story hero – Louie Zamperini.  You talk about problems, issues, conflicts, life and death decisions, I can’t even explain, but numerous times I find myself in despair, jumping, shocked, terrified, and elated throughout this film.  Everyone, every single person, should have the chance to see this film and then apply it to their lives, and know, the bad is necessary to often people us forward into greatness.  If I ever learned anything from the amazing run at Cross Country, it was to always leave something behind on the course for yourself, it it is a time, an effort you did not think possible, but one thing is fact, there are no – do-overs.  With that mentality, I went on to push myself in everything I do, and to try to make a difference instead of thinking about making a difference.  That in itself IS the difference.  The connection between cross country and the mantra, “If you can take it, you will make it” – is trull through movies, to real life, to the experiences of Louie Zamperini.  I could only hope the best gift ever passed from coach, to runner, to heroes like Louie Zamperini, is life is a snapshot, and we can make it be a panorama if we choose to.  

To imagine Laura Hillenbrand’s book on this topic is too much, but I want to dive into it immediately.  

“Ziggy Zaggy Ziggy Zaggy oy oy oy!”  and “Get the Excellence!” have never rang so true –  some things will never disappear if we can continue to allow the spirit of these very things to work in our lives, as well as others.

About Harry Brake

Employee of Woodbridge High School, Library Media Specialist, Media crazy! :)
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