Cross Country Utopia
It's all here in front of you: runners and coaches lugging tents, tarps, coolers and wagons. Kids gathering around waiting for their medals. Race directors poring over results, making sure they can pronounce all the names right; hang the right bling on the right neck at the right time. Earlier in the morning you had to laugh. After all, this is the only sport in the world that can cause a major traffic tie up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning, literally, in the middle of nowhere. You're driving through East Bumble, fearing you've gotten your team lost, and then 'viola' up ahead are bus brake lights, car windows being rolled down to get directions from some guy or gal holding a cup of coffee, soon to be pointing fingers, directing, guiding.
And an earlier morning conversation: One of your runners approached and said, "Coach, we have to be the weirdest kids in the school. We get up at 5 on Saturday morning!" Yes, we do. But think about it, every sport has its nuance. You play basketball? Then prepare to give up your Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Baseball? So much for Spring Break. Football? Your summer is in the weight room, culminated by three days in Camp Hell, lived out in fields complete with dust and bugs and heat.
On this day, the race director is smart enough not to have the awards near the porta-johns. You stand behind him on purpose, getting this view. These kids in anticipation, these parents using their cell phones as cameras, grandparents with smiles so big their teeth touch both ears.Fortunately, some of your kids' names are called, they left their kidneys and spleens back at Mile 2, but in the beauty of the cross country kid they kept going anyway.
This sport attracts the best in your humble opinion. Why? Because there is no real sense of superiority. After all, if you beat someone in tennis 6-0, 6-0, you can't help but feeling...well...better somehow. In running, whether your watch reads 16 minutes or 30 after a 5K, you did it! You pushed through the pain and you hurt. And whether you were first or last or somewhere in between, the applause and the appreciation and the cameras were flashing just the same. You may not stand on the podium, but you did it. You achieved. The last neck has accepted the final medal now. The tents and tarps and wagons are being pulled up a hill, past a parking lot. You are praying your bus driver is still there... Life will continue with a cat nap, college football to watch and dinner plans for later.
It's cross country Saturday morning, that's what it is. The only way to understand is to do it, hear the alarm every Saturday morning and wonder.. what you are you doing? But, like the above runners, you get up, turn off your alarm and off you go. Former basketball star Scott Skiles once said that basketball fans are like churchgoers, many attend, but few understand. Yeah, ditto that with cross country. On the bus home, coaches are already on Milesplit (they have been since seconds after the race) Kids are asleep, the bus gears shift, protest, but like the runners, grind forward. You used to wonder what you were getting to, did you really want to give up your Saturdays? You laugh, because you do get it. And better still, you know this is exactly what Saturday mornings are made for...