Inspired by an idea from a current teammate, I am starting a multi-part series of posts titled “Why I Love Cross Country.” These blurbs will be published one at a time, between now and our first meet of the 2018 cross country season (August 31st). In the series, I hope to highlight multiple perspectives and — above all — rekindle a fondness for this crazy sport.
I fell in love with cross country when I was 14 years old.
Sure, I had run in middle school, but at the time my drive to run had warped motivations: I competed because I wanted to be the best. A perfectionist at birth, I struggled to accept any performance short of a PR. And more profoundly, I was driven by a lack of self-confidence; what insecure middle-schooler doesn’t want to hold tightly to worldly achievements that place her above her peers?
Thankfully, high school cross country shattered this mindset.
During the first few practices, I sensed a spirit I had never before encountered in sports. My teammates were motivated not by shiny accolades but by an unconditional love for each other. This love moved their hearts and their legs to compete for a purpose greater than their own. This love softened my stony heart and exposed me to the true nature of cross country.
Primarily, cross country bleeds equality; the sport has no cuts, no benches and no specialized positions. All runners cover the same distance and grind through the same hills — regardless of what the clock says when they cross the finish line.
Most importantly, everyone on my high school team received a popsicle at the end of the race. On hot meet days, we’d warm up as the JV runners — who had just finished racing — sat with ice cold towels around their necks and ice cold snacks in their hands. I threw myself over the finish line, hoping that at the end of the Varsity races, there’d be at least one cherry popsicle left.
Because nothing says “I love you” like an artificially flavored block of ice.
Sadly, popsicles melt; their loveliness is only temporary. Fortunately, the love of my cross country teammates withstood the most extreme temperatures. Later, I would realize that this mysterious everlasting love is the love of Jesus Christ, but that’s a story for another time…
From this strong love, our team formed a family (cliche, I know, but true). We shared joyous tears and praises after winning state my freshman year. We sought each other for comfort when our coach passed away during my senior year. In between, we laughed, cried, bled, sweat and vomited — and we did it as a team.
My college team has a similar unity. Biologically, I only have one younger sister, but I am blessed with over 40 honorary siblings on the Augustana cross country team. And, oh boy does it help to have such a large family in town when living three-and-a-half hours away from your biological family — for the first time in 18 years!
Of course, physically running is deeply satisfying as well. God blessed me with an awkward combination of traits: a fiercely competitive soul and a tragic lack of skill. Enter cross country, a sport in which its participants challenge the limits of their physical endurance — not their hand-eye coordination.
For all of these reasons, I love cross country. I love the strong community, lasting joy and physical satisfaction that have broken down this perfectionist’s flawed foundation. I love the wonderful weirdness of my nonbiological family members and the warm, tingly feeling in my stomach when surrounded by them.
I love that in 11 days, I get to do it all over again.