Allowing yourself time to let thoughts, experiences, frustrations, and more simply rise to the top of your mind, but actually having someone to share those frustrations with on a deeper level – there are no words.

Today was our first cross country invitational – at Killen’s Pond for 2022. I was excited because with the idea of cross country, few people can get past what is most important and life valuable with this sport – it is not the competition of your time and everyone else’s time, it is not the chance to be a star and let everyone know and believe it or not, it is not going from meet to meet competing with yourself for that holier than thou time (although that IS addicting) that make cross country more spiritual than any sport I know.

I have been lucky enough to have conversations with one of the best cross country athletes in the high school realm currently, and have been able to do this for the past three years. This individual has the school, has the times, has the proof of their devotion to being one of the best to touch any cross country field, and I have been lucky enough to have conversations in snippets when we come together as teams – and we do so secretly, without advertising this happening, to process what we experience – and I am that much luckier to be able to hear and compare from this individual as an athlete and runner, and this individual gets to hear the coaches’ perspective, and it has been, pretty darn awesome. Some amazing takeaways we have hashed out over several years-

Regrets are amazing. Between the reasons people miss meets and miss opportunities that allow them to gel with others at every chance before leaving the high school sport of XC, we marvel at this. We agreed on a phrase, your team is where you are more than not. Meaning, this individual comes from a VERY VERY competitive and LARGE XC school that churns out runners like a factory – and XC is almost a religion. Obviously, this feeling of why you run XC seems to come from being the best than most on the XC course. We agreed and laughed at what REALLY makes a XC team is the people that come out like a ritual and know others will do better by something that can contribute to the runners on their team. The devotion to others, we marveled, more than self, pays back to your own success more than anyone, or groups, that come from more than generous talented teams, and what is important is who is there for you more often that not, we laughed at what the definition of team really is when you look around and see who around you, who is cheering you on, and who is there for you on show days AND off days.

This individual comes again, from a large, talented, competitive school and hearing how they envied when we, who often have 5-6 reliables at every single meet for the season, and less during the whims of what sometimes is considered “extra” early or later in the season, we agreed, XC is XC, half time is half time, being there all the time and being there when the winds allow it sends a feeling of worth, or uselessness and frustration through others on a team. This athlete felt bad about what seemed talking bad about the team they were on that usually pushes past almost many other teams and yet, they felt what they were missing was what happens when you have chances to really connect and take in what makes XC probably the best sport ever-

Commercial break – what makes it the best sport ever? The mix of being able to take in amazing scenery and views, being able to trade pain for momentary lapses of time that make you laugh, sometimes cry, but being able to embrace what is outdoors and make it a part of your own experience, and letting those that miss it go for their high targeted goals (this athlete kept mentioning that term, LOVED IT) – while putting time in with individuals that really “get” the value of making something personal from XC and not making it a stepping stone. How many times do students, athletes, and more let the amazing experiences of a sport slip by for the sake of the glorious record, competitive edge that is contagious around others, and for the second of adding a line on a resume? Few and those few are the unhappiest- ironic, isn’t it?

Back to this amazing realization too – I vented a frustration alot last year and moreso this year of how much work some sports do and how little others do. Works in the context of outside of working on your self, how many teams, athletes, sports work on the relationships, the physical terrain that defines their sport, the physical aspects of where they train every day. Odd, this person REGRETTED not doing more outside of training, training, training in their sport and nothing else related to their sport. I laughed SO SO loud, and said LET ME TELL YOU….We have had to solicit help from past parents, individuals in other school districts, (And in weird places in our own too!) , coaches and parents of athletes in DIFFERENT SPORTS!, just to try and put together let’s say, new features to our course, to the experiences we have that stand out in the form of banquets, finding money for those things on shoe shoe string budgets (forget the shoe strings just shoes!) – that was a great joke this athlete made, 1 for them! – and yet, doing the countless sweat, labor, and hustles we do, we walked away appreciating the small numbers, the successful events we do constantly, the sport takes on totally new meaning. TOTALLY new meaning.

Anyone that knows me knows I HATE asking for help from ANYONE, it KILLS ME. Yet, this athlete confidante told me from a student perspective, being asked to do something instead of always having everything handed to them – made all the difference in the world in their experience running Cross Country. That made me look at my won frustrations and appreciations for people that have put in their own time, weekends, holidays, hard work and sweat, for such a small team every year that often, gets left off the radar in alot of things. Yet we both argued together, is getting recognized for what you DID or DO better than the feeling you have inside of knowing the harder work you might be putting in, more than someone else, in ways other than training? The latter is more attractive you just do not realize it until much, much later.

You take ALL the above and apply this to real situations, it all applies. EVERY SINGLE TIME, I am on Atlanta Road, someone stays on my bumper where I cannot see their bumper, until they fly past me at 90 miles and hours, and ironically, we always end up behind or car behind car with each other at the next intersection – my comparison was hurry hurry hurry or fame fame fame get that amazing be better than anyone else and then – poof! – what next? is that worth dying because you had to be going 10 miles faster than me on a back road, comparatively, was it worth missing the beauty of the whole sport of XC to be so focused on beating someone else all the time, was it worth it to make sure your time is one of the largest in the states to make the most noise, get the most awards, and walk away with being legend more season than others- we both agreed- there are so many EXCELLENT XC runners that will never, and do not get, the TRUE essence of what XC is based on what happens behind the scenes, when people are not looking when numbers are taken out of the whole experience (odd thing to say) and then taking all this and applying this to real life- alot applies in all directions.

For the past three years these are some of the good, brief, and detailed reflections we have had about views from a coach and an athletes, and they are some of the best moments I have felt and reflected on when it comes to XC. It came to a head today with some of the topics we discussed today, and reminded me of some amazing things that occurred today on our team:

Ryan hunkered down to one of the hardest spots on today’s course and offered TWICE to place himself in places where he had to walk to push on, and cheer on one of our other runners who was running an official 5k for the FIRST TIME. It made a HUGE difference, a HUGE different in the other runner’s time, it was a HUGE glory moment for XC in my book.

Funny thing is , Matthew has no idea how much of a leader/captain, etc. he is and he is SO much so this. He just does not realize it so many times, and it is so interesting to see from afar, how much he still has to work on, and yet, how much strength he has he is unaware of.

Having the laughter and optimistic views that Irene, Matthew, and Brent brought to the course today was one of the most memorable first meets I have had in years, weird, but absolutely true, it was just – perfect. They did nothing special, but the struggles they have had over the weeks in training, and then seeing things just happen on their behalf today – it just was awesome. Many times Brent simply said, or thought, not possible and boy, he made what he thought impossible, possible today. That speaks volumes without saying a word.

Being able to have a super cool support factor in our corner from an exchange student from Germany, it also just made the whole day more pleasant than normal. She is such a cool addition to WHS, and her easy going, agreeable and interesting take on things around her just seemed to really bring out what I have always liked about XC. Lea made it an even better day for everyone just be her very nature.

Being able to lay out frustrations, anxieties, and just wishes and recommendations I wish some athletes would just “get” is a difficult task sometimes when you have a coaching staff that is just somehow off kilter. I am lucky that Coach Syerra soaks alot of that in and is able to provide a back and forth where we can later laugh at some of the craziest, most frustrating aspects of XC and yet lay them down and find ways to move past them. That is a huge key. And the unseen HOURS of labor and work that Coach Syerra and Coach Gary and his wife have put in, to just have HILLS

and trails and trees disappear or appear, forms and guidelines restructured, the countless hours neighbors, workouts changed, adapted, squeezing the harsh realities of life given to everyone on a daily basis amid all these goals, former parents of past XC runners, friends of our coaches, and more have put in SILENTLY, without a large proportion of the public knowing – it would flabbergast you as it it flabbergasts me every single day.

All of this touches the iceberg about how much recognition and support the sport of XC does get in shadows of others and yet, there is a drive in XC members that you will never find in any others. Aside from the many frustrations and roadblocks we come across on many a path – there are these shortcuts that our maintenance, administration, and community in the public do come to our aide with that show repeatedly, being first, being the fastest, being better than everyone else is a short burning match to the flame of recognizing your sport has the ability to build an internal feeling of growth and appreciation.

I am privileged to have these outstanding reflections from a school experience of one person to the opposite of everything our school is in numbers of athletes available for XC, contrasting money given to every sport, for facilities, the internal drive for running in general and so much more, and it has brought some amazing laughs and realizations together, and it KILLS me to not say thanks to a specific name, but, there are things more important than the name, record, and resume recognition as we keep coming back to, and it makes it even more rewarding to know we come from different spectrums and have these realizations.

So when you think no one truly realizes what you are thinking, experiencing, feeling, and trying to get across to others over an extended period of time, think again. Life is more about who shows up to your side, when they show up to your side, why they show up to your side, and how they make a difference.

I am lucky enough to have found all of these, the frustrating and the inspiring in key individuals in this sport. And a glorious day as well in today made it a perfect backdrop for all the above. 🙂 This teaches me daily to reshape what it means to be a coach, what it means to be a colleague, what it means to be a person who looks out for other people and set aside my frustrations.

Passing, passing, passing, it is so important to consider who and why you are passing, and what you are passing that defines each of us, on and off the course!

P.S. Dane whispered to me that today might have been the best day he ever had remember. That says alot too 🙂


About Harry Brake

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