As I round the final turn, I kick it into fourth gear. My legs are turning; arms are pumping, lungs pounding, and heart beating. A flood of screams, cheers, encouragement, and support washes over me. The colorful flags –blowing in the soft breeze- lead me to the finish line. I gladly follow them. I stretch my legs out as far as they will allow, pushing off the earth, crossing the line. Many things make up this ultimate sport, Cross Country.
The volunteers herd us finishers into a line. Two other helpers have filled hundreds of little paper cups with cool water. I quickly grab one. I let the clear water free-fall into my parched mouth. As it slips down my dry throat, it feels as if a monsoon has just occurred in an Egyptian desert. I grab a second cup and thank the two women in a breathless voice. They only smile and nod before hastily returning to their duty of filling the many more cups for the many more finishers to come.
Once I regain some strength, I lightly jog over to the “pick-up your pace place”, to cheer on my friends. I see the familiar Boro-blue jersey zip past a tree. I scream and yell as loud as I can, to ensure that she hears me. I can now see her darker hair and recognize who she is. A herd of Elks has just passed me. Once my teammate and friend gets closer, I lower my voice to a gentle, yet encouraging, tone. I reassure her of the strength she has in her and then, in a more commanding voice, tell her to go catch the Centerville pack. The determination in her face lets me know that she is searching deep for that inner strength. Her eyes almost attach to the yellow bunch of, pitifully worn-out, girls, and a small smile sneaks across her face. As I run beside her, I know what is to happen next. She kicks it in and sprints off! The poor Elks are left helpless as she leaves them in the dust. The finish line is next for her, and I quickly follow.
The abundance of fans and parents astounds me at every meet. The last four-hundred meters, of the hard two miles, is always lined with encouraging things. Sounds of screams, horns, and even a cow bell, ring through my ears. The people almost always give you the extra push you need to finish the race: parents proud of their kid, coaches reminding runners of technique, rival teams having some fun, teammates and friends going crazy! They are all there to watch you do your best.
As my tired legs slowly take me back to our tent, I pass a fellow team. They are playing a war consisting of not bullets but shots of water. The memory of water fights with my own teammates, bursts in front of my eyelids. It all takes me back to the hot summer days of practice. After school, we change and hurry to the shed. The boys are playing wall ball while the girls chat and watch. When the coaches arrive, we warm-up and stretch. Coach tells us, “fifteen minutes”. We set our watches and take off. My friends and I quickly cluster into a pack. A few minutes into the run, I break off from our group. I run around the school, through a field, across the parking lot, down a hill, and then back up it. Like young birds, being tossed into the big blue sky for the first time, we soar. Into the creek, we splash, through the woods, over the ditch, and around the trees. We spread our wings and let the will of freedom take us where it may.
In an instant I flash back. I remember where I am and what I am doing. I keep going towards the tent, but again, my mind drifts a little off course. I think of the sport as a whole. Cross Country is filled with laughs between friends, pranks on coaches, hot summer days, cool fall mornings. It’s full of hard work, and the pleasure of freedom; the freedom to run wherever you will take yourself. Cross Country has left me with some of the most amazing memories of my Junior High life. It truly is the ultimate sport!
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