Anecdote Number Two.
First day of cross country. During seventh and eighth grade, I played volleyball. I was by no means good, but I did have one shining moment: I bumped the ball so far to the back of the other team’s side that everyone thought it was out – but it was in, and we won the game. Other than that, no physical activity, maybe some casual bike rides here and there. No running. So I was fairly surprised to find myself at the first day of cross country practice two weeks before school started, convinced by my friend Katie (with whom I had been friends in middle school) that it was fun and a good way to get in shape. My parents were pleased with my decision; my mom dropped me off and wished me good luck. As she drove away, I looked up the little hill to where everyone was gathered by the red track shed. I was a typical freshman: timid, worried I wouldn’t fit in or make friends, unsure of how to talk to people, etc. I didn’t have proper running clothes, just some cotton shorts that looked like pajama pants and a tank top. I didn’t think to bring water. And, scanning the crowd, I didn’t see Katie.
Social panic set in. I was now at the top of the hill, alone at the edge of a crowd of chattering, confident-looking runners. The coach, Tom Carney, spied me and called out, “Ah, the new person, scared to death. Best decision you’ve ever made!” (I doubted that.)
Let me interject here with a bit about Carney. He is a tan, fit, dark-haired guy of anywhere between 35 and 45 (I don’t actually know). You can see at first glance that he is a serious runner. He has Those Calves and is perpetually wearing a pair of Brooks, cargo shorts, a running t-shirt, and running sunglasses. He is a completely spastic ball of positive energy and he is a wonderful coach. I know him now, but my first impression of him was an odd mix of intimidation, almost like he wanted to haze the freshmen with running, and excitement that you were there. He focused on the varsity kids, but he’d run with us too. He made everyone on the team feel appreciated and accomplished. He noted everyone’s PRs, whether it was dropping from 18:01 to 17:59 or from 30:01 to 29:59. He made sure we were having fun, but he definitely made sure we knew when to focus. Before races, he’d have us all lay down and close our eyes, envisioning the race. Take the first mile slightly easy, kick it for the middle mile, and cruise into the third. If it was good weather or a good course, he’d point those out as positives; in bad weather or on tough courses, he’d tell us to view it as a challenge that we should push through and come out on top. Then we’d break and do our strides and head to the line. And he’d be there along the course, not just for the top five, but for the stragglers too, yelling encouragement and tips. Keep your eyes up. Fists loose. Catch this girl, she’s ten feet in front of you. And then – GO. GO NOW.
Back to the story. Being pointed out was the last thing I wanted, but it did let Katie know that I was here. She bounced over, said hi, and led me over to introduce her friends. “This is Camille and Brittany.” Camille seemed shy but energetic, and Brittany was a little sunny bubble bursting with energy and happiness. Little did I know that I would be close friends with these two girls for many years to come; I was just relieved to have someone to hang out with. They seemed nice and welcoming.
We started practice by going into the woods around the school to bury a shoe. I had no idea what was going on – the shoe was significant somehow, but I didn’t know. I just went along with the crowd. (ask around to find out what that was.) Then came the Running part of cross country, for which I was woefully unprepared. It was supposed to be an easy 4 or 5 miles, but I couldn’t even make it to the spot a mile away where we stretched. I found myself walking along the trail alone, tired, and very much regretting my decision to come. I could always quit, I thought; I don’t have to come back. Then Brittany came up behind me and walked with me. Turns out, she was slow too. Together we walked along, talking about how crazy these cross country people were, and decided to call ourselves the Turtles because we were slow. We’d be Turtles together.
The girls’ coach ran back to us and told us to try to run, even just on and off, and we tried. We did. But finally she said we could just start heading back for the high school because we were so far back. It was disheartening, but I no longer regretted coming. Maybe I can do this, I thought.
If I traveled back in time and told first-day-of-practice me that I’d run 50 miles and have plans beyond that one day, I would never, ever have believed me. It would have been so far beyond my comprehension. Just goes to show how far you can come.