Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

Prescript: This blog is not about Cross Country, at least not directly, but it is about my life and as such Coaching and Running are interwoven throughout the narrative.  I am hopeful that (among others) many of my current and former athletes and their families will read this.   A team value we’ve always upheld is that through challenge and tribulation comes a sense of purpose, even in situations where the outcome was not what we’d hoped.  The past few months of my life have put that premise to the ultimate test.  While the experiences I’ve had are unique to my family, I hope my reflections on those experiences contain some insights others may find valuable.

 

At 19 weeks, we thought we lost them.  On Saturday, July 22nd, I returned home from a run with my friend and coaching colleague John Sipple to discover the car of Sarah McCabe, wife of Girl’s Cross Country coach Mark, sitting in our driveway.  This seemed odd.  Though, Sarah had recently babysat for us (the McCabe’s live a short five minutes away) I had not expected to see her visiting on a sunny weekend morning.  I paced up our walkway wondering what brought her to our place and was met at the door by my wife Megan, who told me in a calm and steady voice: “Sarah is here to babysit Clio.  We need to go to the hospital.  I think my water broke.”  My heart dropped.  We were still weeks away from viability.

At the hospital, we were ushered into a delivery room, and the Doctors ordered some tests to determine our status.  The wait for those results were among the worst moments I can ever remember feeling.  When the Doctor came in to report that the test came back negative, relief washed over us and I came to a new realization: the only thing better than learning of good news is learning of the absence of bad news.  Nonetheless, that day will forever be etched into my memory as the day I learned what it must feel like to be met with unexpected tragic news.

Two days later, we visited our Maternal-Fetal-Medicine specialist for one of the twice weekly ultrasounds they had recommended for us, given the complications we’d experienced from early on in the pregnancy.  These regular checks were intended to pick up possible early signs of Twin-to-Twin Transfusion syndrome, a disease impacting about 10-15% of identical twin pregnancies, wherein blood from one twin is shunted to the other.  The best known treatment for TTTS is laser ablation surgery, where the blood vessels are separated so as to stop the transfer from happening.  This was the appointment where signs looked ominous enough for our Doctor to recommend we travel to Houston for consultation with specialists followed possibly by surgery.

The next day, I attended summer running, and gave a speech to the team.  The juniors and seniors would be leaving the next day for our annual team-building trip in Kenosha, and for the first time ever, I would not be able to join them.  I told a story about my first coaching job in Lamoni, Iowa, a tiny rural farm town with a high school student body of just over 100.  I took over a Track team that had not won a conference title in 30 years.  My first year, we finished 5th.  My second year, we finished 2nd, less than ten points behind the winner.  That second year, the team started experiencing success they’d never had before.  We won a meet for the first time.  It was a few days after that first victory that I had to let the guys know I would not be returning to Lamoni the following year as I’d been accepted to Graduate school at University of Iowa.   My message to them was simple: you now know what you are capable of, and you will be successful without me.  Sure enough, the next year they won the conference title by over 50 points.

I relayed this story to the present group to convey a similar point: they had within them everything they would need to be competitive.  Still, my voice cracked as I concluded, “…so, I won’t be able to come to Kenosha with you.  I have to go to Houston.  It’s the best chance my little girls have.”

The next day, the Cross Country team traveled north, while Megan and I flew in the opposite direction.  A month before the city faced the deluge from Hurricane Harvey, we arrived in Houston and met with Doctors from the Children’s Hospital.  But, they opted not to perform the surgery.  The disease had not progressed far enough to warrant an invasive surgical procedure.  It seemed we dodged another bullet.  The surgery would remain an option up until 26 weeks, after which time if signs of TTTS reappeared the only option would be to deliver the babies, as the surgery carries too great a risk in the third trimester.

Summer break ended, school started.  I was no longer able to attend each and every ultrasound appointment, owing to work obligations.  However, I requested a half day to be with Megan for our 26-week appointment on September 1st, since we’d be getting an update on the growth of the twins (these are scheduled for every two weeks).  Though we’d come to expect the unexpected, we were once again thrown off balance by learning that the TTTS was beginning to reverse, with the twin that had previously been receiving blood now in the donor role.  Our Doctor told us this could mean delivery could happen soon – perhaps within a few weeks – and ordered Megan to get steroid shots to prepare for that eventuality (the steroids help aid lung development of the babies).

So, on Saturday September 3rd I cheered on the Red Devils at our home Cross Country invite in the morning and then went off to Hinsdale Hospital later that afternoon to accompany Megan while she got her first of two shots, the other coming 24 hours later.

We spent a relatively relaxed labor day enjoying beautiful weather and the company of my brother, sister-in-law and niece.  The following day, Tuesday, September 5th, began as an ordinary day.  I went to school, taught my classes, headed off to practice.  I knew Megan had a 3:30 appointment with the Doctor for an ultrasound, and that more than the upcoming dual meet against Glenbard West occupied the majority of my thoughts during the run.  Upon returning back to campus after a six-mile loop, I took a detour down to the locker room to check my phone before rejoining the team in the weight room.  Megan had left a voicemail.  The words echo still: “The Doctor says it’s time.”  Adrenaline and fear rushed through my body.  We knew prematurity was a possibility, but only a week earlier things had seemed to be leveling out, and the hope of making it past 30 weeks seemed not just possible but likely.  In the third trimester, every single day matters, and this was way earlier than we wanted.  It meant our girls would face longer odds.  At that moment, I was terrified of what could happen just during the delivery itself.

I found Coach Westphal and relayed the news, told him I’d be out for a while and would update him when I could.  Rushed home.  Packed a bag.  Headed back to the hospital.  I met Megan and she told me surgery was scheduled for 7:00pm, as soon as the second neonatologist arrived.  Megan’s sister Liz was with her, as was our daughter Clio, who, though unable to understand exactly what was happening nonetheless sensed a great change was taking place.

What happened next I’ve recorded already, publishing a facebook post about it on September 6th.  While I know some readers of this blog are connected to me through that social network, others are not, and so here I will defer to the account I published there:

 

Yesterday was a momentous day in our lives. Alexis Rose Lawrence was born at 7:42pm weighing 1 pound 6 ounces. Beatrix Reid was born one minute later weighing 1 pound 10 ounces. Their birth came earlier than we had hoped (26 weeks, 4 days), but based on our Doctor’s advice, this was the best possible course of action.

These precious girls are tiny and, as with all preemies, there are a lot of risks and challenges ahead, but so far the Doctors seem pleased with their progress. We have been told to expect ups and downs, and we know we have a long road ahead.

The beautiful irony in all of this is that yesterday Megan and Liz got the results back from the DNA test they recently took to find out, finally, if they were fraternal (as they’d always thought) or identical, and the results showed a 99.9% chance they are identical. So on the day Megan learned she was an identical twin (as, most of you know, am I) she gave birth to identical twins.

Please keep Alexis and Beatrix in your thoughts and prayers as they adjust to life outside of the womb.

 

Megan and I spent four days in the hospital as she recovered from her c-section, and in that period we made the journey down the hallway from the maternity ward to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) roughly a dozen times.  It began to sink in how radically and irrevocably our lives had just changed, both in the short term and long.  Both babies had safely been delivered, so that hurdle had been cleared, but a new set of worries now lay before us: would our girls be OK?  To see them is to understand how incredibly tiny they are – the smallest living humans I have ever seen in my life.  To envision them as even the size of Clio when she was born – 5 pound, 14 ounces – is hard to conceive at this moment.

In addition to worrying about Alexis and Beatrix’s health, we had also to consider our own.  Megan would be recovering from surgery, must get up every three hours to pump, and faces the challenge of spending time with the twins while also caring for Clio.  I would need to find the strength to balance my work as a teacher and coach with my commitments to caring for Megan and Clio along with making daily visits to the NICU and striving to get enough rest to sustain that schedule for months. I make no claims of exhibiting courage.  You deal with a trial like this the way you deal with being thrown off a cliff.  I am still afraid to even touch our babies, fearing I’ll accidentally knock a tube or IV (Megan is doing much better, already helping out with changing diapers, taking temperatures, and holding Alexis and Beatrix).  Coming back to work in some ways feels like the easy way out – a way to keep my mind occupied on the world of teaching social studies and away from the fears that would otherwise occupy my mental space (certainly the set rhythms of the school week are a welcome contrast to the unsettling and unpredictable world of the NICU).

My weekday now looks like this: After a restless night of sleep where I get up around 2:30am to help Megan get her supplies for pumping, I wake up at 6:00am: shower and grab my lunch, wake up Clio and get her breakfast, drop her off at daycare on my way to school.  I teach and coach as I always have, though I now leave Cross Country practice earlier than I otherwise would prefer thanks to the invaluable compassion and understanding exhibited by Coaches Westphal, Kupres, and Snee – all of whom have picked up my slack over the past weeks.  I arrive home and get updates from my wife, try to play for an hour or so with Clio, then do a few chores (wash the dishes, make lunch, get my clothes and coffee ready for the next day) before drawing Clio’s bath around 8:00.  A few bedtime stories later, we lie her in her crib, and once she drifts off to sleep and our babysitter arrives, we make our now familiar 15 minute drive down Plainfield and County Line roads to Hinsdale Adventist Hospital, park, and take the elevator to the fourth floor where the labor and delivery rooms, maternity ward, and NICU are all located.

Upon arrival, the first thing you do is wash your hands.  We then walk to the southwest corner of the 1st of 3 rooms where Alexis and Beatrix lie in their incubators, tubes and IVs attached, developing in an environment that is the closest humans could come to simulating a womb.  We greet the nurses, lift the blankets draped over the incubators to simulate night, and say hello to our girls.  A typical visit includes an update from the nurse (or Doctor if he/she is there), helping with the ‘assessment’ (taking of temperature, changing of diaper, getting weighed) and giving the girls a swab with a little bit of mom’s milk.  On a really good day, Megan will get to hold Alexis or Beatrix to her chest for an hour – a practice known in the NICU as kangaroo care, which research suggests improves the baby’s health and aids in mother-child bonding.  On a tougher visit, alarms will sound almost continually, notifying the nurses that our babies aren’t getting enough oxygen, or had a dip in their heart rate, or are too cold.  On one early visit, before I learned how to interpret these alarms, I broke into tears on my way out.  I’d felt like I was in a war zone – that each alarm was a bomb going off, and after two hours of near constant beeps, my composure was shattered.   I am always anxious when I arrive (as I was during the pregnancy phase, before every ultrasound), but usually now after a few minutes go by I begin to relax a bit more.  While my emotional state these past few weeks has tended towards fear and worry for the health of Alexis and Beatrix, this has been substantially counterbalanced by feelings of gratitude: for the amazing amount of support we have been offered, for the good fortune of living close to the NICU, for the professionalism, expertise, and compassion of the nurses and Doctors who tend to Alexis and Beatrix.

The girls have had their challenges.  Both sustained infections during their second week of life; both still need help breathing.  Alexis has had to get medication for her heart, while Beatrix has had trouble gaining weight.  Two weeks after birth, both remain weeks away from weighing even two pounds.  But, their vital signs are good, the nurses and doctors assure us their progress is typical for babies of their size, and every day that goes by brings good news, as it represents another day of growth and another day for their internal systems to develop.

The Doctors do not – and, ethically cannot, make any guarantees.  As we keep being reminded, ‘you are not out of the woods.’  My greatest fear remains that Alexis and Beatrix will not survive.  I suppose, though, that this fear will never go away: not after we are discharged from the NICU, not after the girls are old enough to talk and walk, not after they begin school, nor even if they become responsible and successful adults with their own families.  I know this because I know my parents continue to worry about me.  I know from teaching for 15 years how much parents worry about their own children.  And this is, of course, the reality of love.  You cannot have love without fear and worry.  So, here, the comparisons to Cross Country (indeed team sports in general) are apt.  To be fully invested in something is to accept the hardship, frustrations, and disappointments that will invariably accompany any endeavor for which you are ‘all in’ (it is only the athletes who are NOT fully committed who avoid these challenges; but for them, glory will never be the prize).  The greater you care about something, the more you expose yourself to hurt.  But consider that equation in reverse.

The past few months have marked the hardest period of my life, but, as of this writing, my worst fears have not materialized, and it remains possible that September 5th, while the scariest day of my life, may also prove the best.  It’s been a profoundly life-changing experience, to say the least.  While sitting next to Megan in the NICU as she cradles one of our daughters to her chest, while running, while lying in bed at night, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect.  Below are some additional scattered thoughts to share:

 

-This challenge has reinforced how incredibly fortunate and privileged I truly am.  The question is not: why did this happen to us?  It is rather: how is it possible we’ve been so fortunate to have both girls still living and with a chance to do well?  Had this birth happened 30 years ago, it is doubtful either girl would be alive.  If it had happened in many other places in the world, the same would be true.  That we happen to live so close to excellent doctors and hospitals, that we are surrounded by people who have the means and desire to help us, that we have the insurance to cover what would otherwise be insurmountable costs – all of this is good fortune far beyond the norm.

-NICU Doctors and nurses have the most important job in the world.  Period.  Sometimes as a teacher I am lauded for choosing education as a vocation.  Teaching is important.  Not as important as what my NICU nurses do.  I once had a conversation with a man who argued that entrepreneurs were the drivers’ of America.  I respect entrepreneurs.  I don’t think they are more important than the people who work in the NICU.  NICU workers tend to literally the most vulnerable humans in existence.  They make entire lives possible.  I never previously had any clue what a NICU looked like or what employees of the NICU do.  I now understand how special a person you must be to choose to work in the NICU as your life’s’ work.

-Health care is as much art as science.  There is no prescription.  Each individual, even identical twins, is different, and has unique needs.  I’ve participated in conversations with Doctors as they’ve weighed the pros and cons of different treatment options.  In the field of health care, people take a much more collaborative approach than in other professions.  Our girls are seen by 6 main neonatologists who are in constant conversation with each other about what they are seeing and what they think the best way forward might be.  Each of these Doctors has their own network of professionals who they are in communication with, bouncing ideas off each other and inquiring about different fields of research.  They have the wisdom and experience to make educated decisions about what to do, but they can never be sure how these decisions will actually play out, since each one of us reacts differently.  Thus, it is a constant feedback loop of trying out different treatments, adjusting, and finding the best path.  Wean the oxygen a bit, and see how this impacts the heart rate.  Too much weaning?  Go back up.  Readjust the tubing.  Monitor weight.  See how much the babies are urinating.  Check their white blood cell count.  All of these markers help the doctors assess the health of our babies and inform their decision on what to do next.

I find this inspiring.  I think it is a useful model to think about coaching.  What if for each athlete we could create a network of professionals who were in constant communication about that athlete, charting a plan for them that is adjusted regularly based upon different metrics such as resting heart rate, hours of sleep, body temperature, and self-reports about physical and emotional well-being?  It’s not really possible with 100 guys on the team, but if nothing else, this experience reminds me of the importance of seeing the whole athlete and consulting with others who might see the athlete in different contexts.

-When you encounter true struggle for the first time, you learn that there are people you know who have depths of compassion that you never previously knew about.  I have discovered that I have people in my life that I did not know as well as I thought.  I never fully appreciated how amazing these people are.  The kindness others have shown to my family is beyond any I’ve ever shared with others, and makes me want to do a better job of thinking beyond myself and not being shy about giving help to people when they need it, even when they are too tired or overwhelmed to ask.  Relatedly, I’ve become more compassionate myself.  I can see strengths in people I hadn’t previously recognized.  Robert Callan is a senior on our Cross Country team.  I have had both him and his twin sister Grace as students in my East Asian Studies course.  Both were conscientious, polite, responsible and kind.  Robert is not among our faster runners.  His PR for the 1600 Sophomore year of track was 6:34.  As a junior, he improved his time to 6:04.  This year, our goal is to help him break 5:30.  Here is the amazing part: Robert’s mother gave birth to him at 24 weeks and 3 days.  He weighed barely over a pound.  One of the biggest challenges premature babies face is lung-development.  And yet, now Robert is training to be an Eagle Scout, headed to college next year, and a faster runner than 95% of his high school classmates (only a handful of non-Cross Country runners could plausibly claim to run faster).  He and his sister are living miracles, and I never appreciated that until now.

-Do your job well, honor your commitments, share your passion.  Do this because it is a fulfilling way to live life.  But a very unexpected and amazing consequence of living this way has been that during this past few weeks when my family has never had a greater need for support, we’ve discovered a huge network of people stepping in to lift us up and carry us through the challenges we’ve faced.  So many people have been there for us – our immediate and extended families, my work colleagues, the families of current and former runners, friends from all different phases of our lives-  sending well wishes, bringing food, caring for Clio while we visit the NICU.  It has genuinely been awe-inspiring, humbling, and overwhelming to accept so much help from so many caring, kind, thoughtful individuals.  To all of you, words are insufficient to express the depth of our gratitude.

We who teach, who coach, who parent, who are students – all of us have benefited from the work and care of others.  Every individual is unique and beautiful and has inherent value; but each of us as individuals cannot flourish without families, networks, teams and institutions designed to nurture us – each of those in their own way an incubator promoting growth.  God willing, Alexis and Beatrix will grow up and eventually attend school at Hinsdale South.  When they are old enough to understand, I hope I am able to convey to them how many different people are invested in their well-being and growth, how wide their network of support, how much we should be grateful for each new day.  It is a lesson I am only now fully comprehending.

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I have received three major shocks in the past five months.

The first shock came mid-April, when my wife Megan sat me down on the couch to show me her positive pregnancy test.  This was joyous but unexpected news.  It had taken us three years of trying, including rounds of fertility treatments, before we’d finally succeeded in having a baby together: Clio is now a precocious 19-month old.  This time, I just learned, no such treatments would be necessary.  Clio was going to have a younger sibling!

The second shock came a few weeks later, after Megan’s first appointment with the Doctor after learning of the pregnancy.  I was not able to attend, as I was at work.  Upon arriving home from Track practice, I was greeted with this announcement (transcribed here, word for word, with apologies for the profanity, though if ever there was an appropriate moment to let loose a swear word, this would be it):

Megan: Do you want to see the ultrasound?

Noah: Oh, yeah.  I didn’t know you got one.

Megan: Yeah.

Noah:  How’s Doctor Spencer doing?

Megan: Well, she’s as excited as I am, because we’re having twins!

Noah: No fucking way.

Megan: Yeah (laughing).  I’m not kidding.

Noah: (Incredulous) what?!

Megan:  Yeah (laughing).  Two babies!

Noah: Oh my God.

Megan:  (sighing) yeah

Noah:  (Looking at ultrasounds) I suppose this was fate.

Megan: Yes.

 

You must understand something.  I am a twin.  My wife is a twin.  We always joked that we were destined to be parents of twins, but in actuality the odds of twins having twins is infinitesimally small.  This new revelation filled me with equal parts wonder and trepidation.  We’re having twins!  Will I ever sleep again?!  I was soon to learn more information about our little ones: they are identical, and they are girls.  I marveled to my wife that the contours of our life together were becoming clearer – I teach high schoolers, and at their age, the future is all hope and mystery.  Can any 18-year-old truly know what their life will be like at 36 (or 37, my current age)?  When we married, we knew we wanted a family, and now that dream seemed to be becoming a reality.  So this is what life had in store for me: a job as a teacher and coach at Hinsdale Central, a home on a cul-de-sac in nearby Willowbrook, a loving wife, and three adoring daughters.  No doubt my 18-year old self would be pleased with this outcome.

Then came the third shock.  Identical twins, we were informed, carry higher risks than more conventional pregnancies.  Unlike most expectant moms, Megan was instructed to schedule more frequent ultrasounds, just so that the Doctors could keep a closer eye on the twins’ development.  At our week 16 checkup, (Thursday, June 22nd), our Doctor came in to review the ultrasound and delicately told us that they’d noticed an abnormality: one twin was growing faster than the other.  A few other data points from the ultrasound readouts concerned them.  We were told it may be possible that what they were seeing were early signs of a troubling development known as ‘Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome’ (TTTS).  A relatively new surgery (developed within the past 20 years) to treat this affliction is the best hope for addressing the problem (a shunting off of blood from one baby to the other) though success rates hovered in the 70% range.  We were told to return on Monday – if the symptoms worsened, we would need to make immediate plans to fly to Houston where some of the nation’s best maternal-fetal specialists work.

We exited the hospital in a daze.  I put my arm around Megan and whispered to her, “life has just thrown us a curve ball.”  She made it to the car before the tears came.  We sat together in our sun-baked Honda Civic in the middle of a busy hospital parking lot, Megan sobbing and me staring into space  (my own tears would come later that day, as we lay together on our bed watching a video about TTTS sent to us by our Doctors).

Monday, June 26th, the day of our 7th wedding anniversary, began for me as most summer Monday’s usually do – with a long run around Waterfall Glen.  I was grateful for the tranquility such a run provides, using it to calm my nerves.  Practice over, I hurried home, showered off, and exchanged pleasantries with the babysitter before getting into the car with Megan for the drive to our clinic in Glen Ellyn.  We spent the car ride discussing possibilities and reviewing questions we had for our Doctors.  I felt something equivalent to pre-race jitters as we entered the doctor’s office and waited to be called back to the examining room.

This time, I was more mentally prepared for the unexpected. The past few days had been tough, as we’d had to make many of the phone calls no one wants to make and hustled to put into place plans in the event we’d need to be flown to a hospital out of state.  The interregnum had allowed time for Megan and I to process what we’d been told, to research treatment options and outcomes, and to vent emotionally.  We were better positioned to learn what the fates foretold.  Which was this: it appears the condition of the twins was not, in fact, TTTS, but rather a different but related condition called ‘Selective Intrauterine Growth Restriction’ (SIUGR).  Since I am not a doctor, I will refer to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website to explain: “Selective intrauterine growth restriction (SIUGR) occurs when there is unequal placental sharing which leads to suboptimal growth of one twin.” SIUGR evidently occurs in about 10% of identical twin pregnancies.  It can range in severity, with the worst cases resulting in the death of one fetus in utero while the best outcome to be hoped for is a birth of two babies at 34-35 weeks.  Unlike TTTS there is no treatment.  We must simply watch and wait.

Subsequent appointments have confirmed this diagnosis.  On our most recent visit, at 18 weeks, we learned one of our babies weighs about 7 ounces and the other 5.  Encouragingly, the smaller baby seems to be receiving appropriate blood flow and is growing, albeit not as quickly as her sister.  We have to hope she continues to grow and gets far enough along to be safely delivered.  If we can make it to 28 weeks, our odds improve.  If we get to 32, we are looking better still.

For the runner and the coach, exercising control over as many variables as possible is the most valuable currency we have.  Yet, here Megan and I find ourselves in a situation where we have no control.  It is a truly humbling experience, a reminder that free will is, to some degree, mere illusion.  There are forces shaping us, in utero and out, that we have no power to impact.  For once, there is no running or coaching analogue.  Hard work and determination are irrelevant to this particular situation.  Chance rules.

I often use the metaphor of the unfinished book when discussing an upcoming season with my team.  Some chapters have already been written, I tell them, but you guys get to help write the conclusion.  In the coming months, the narrative of our teams’ season will parallel the narrative of Megan’s pregnancy.  I’ll have some power to shape one outcome, but none to shape the other.  In both cases, by mid-November, the stories will likely both have officially been told.

At this time, when the ending is not yet known, I hope to live each day with gratitude: for Megan, who carries our babies and who, through the sheer force of her love would will them to health and safety, if such a thing were possible; for the doctors and nurses who have exhibited expertise, compassion and honesty in helping us understand our situation; for our family, friends, and colleagues who have formed for us a network of support that has made this episode so much more bearable; for having good health insurance(!); for the guys on my team who inspire me daily with their youthful enthusiasm and sense of purpose; and for little Clio, who reminds Megan and me always that no matter what happens, we can never say life has cheated us, and whose smile and laugh brighten even the darkest days.

So we journey on, ever forward, into the great unknown…

Why you should do Track

“Young man, walking down the hallway, you should do Track.”

“Who me?”

“Yes, you.”

“But…why?”

Because,

1) It is pure

The oldest and purest athletic completion of all is the simple foot race.  Our sport, Track and Field, has its origins dating from even before the original Greek Olympiad.

“Victory by speed of foot is honored above all.”

– Xenophanes of Colophon (570-475 BCE)

All kids run.  Running fast is fun.  Jumping far or high is fun.  Throwing something heavy as far as you can is fun.  Haven’t you ever taken a rock and thrown it as far into a lake as you can?  Leaped off the top of a sand dune?  Raced your friend to the end of the block?  The building blocks of Track and Field are written into our DNA.  Humans were never meant to be sedentary.  Track and Field is a sport that harnesses the skills needed for every other sport: speed, strength, endurance, and coordination.

There is nothing arbitrary about who wins the race.

mcbrien-finish

Matt McBrien (class of 2015) barely outkicks a competitor from Lane Tech during his Sophomore year at the Hinsdale Relays.  He would go on to be part of two state champion Cross Country teams and is now a member of the Cross Country and Track Teams at Georgia Tech University.

No judgement call from the ref will determine the outcome.  Same goes for all the other events – it’s easy to see who jumps over the bar and who doesn’t, who throws or jumps the furthest.

In soccer, football, baseball, hockey it is plausible that the team that plays better can still lose.  Sometimes it comes down to a judgement call, a penalty called or not called (ask the Fenwick Football Team).  In Track, the results are there for all to see.

blake-loud

Irwin Loud of Oak Park-River Forest and Blake Evertsen of Hinsdale Central battle it out down the final straightaway at the 2016 Indoor Conference Championships. Loud would best Evertsen on this particular occasion by .07 seconds. The two elite distance runners have established a fearsome but respectful rivalry since their freshman year.

You don’t need much to succeed in Track.  You don’t even need a Track.  There is one regulation Track in all of Ethiopia, a nation whose distance runners have won dozens of Olympic medals over the past two decades.  Cahokia, the best Track team in our state, has no indoor facilities.  Some sports, even swimming, are largely restricted to wealthier parts of the world.  Anyone can do Track.  You need very little equipment. A pair of trainers and a pair of spikes.  That’s it.  If you can’t afford those, we’ll help.  You don’t need to have started on your training as a little kid to be successful, as you might have in tennis, golf, swimming or wrestling.  Your talent is already there- our goal as coaches is simply to help you find and develop it.

Let me give you an example on athlete who had talent but needed help finding it.  Last year, I stopped a young man in the hallway just like I stopped you.  His name was Justin Taylor.  Another teacher had seen him shooting some hoops in the gym and was amazed at his hops, so told me about him.  I waited just outside of his 10th period Social Studies class and when he was about to enter I made my pitch.

Justin did not initially want to join Track.  He was polite but shy, and I feared he would demur and pass on my invitation.  The first day of practice went by, and he was not there.  On the second morning of practice, Justin walked in about 15 minutes after we’d started.  I walked over to him, smiled, and told him how glad I was he decided to try it out.  I walked him over to our high jump Coach Andy Antoniou, introduced him, and we tested his vertical.  It was pretty good!

Coach Antoniou is a great coach.  He took Justin, a kid who’d never tried the high jump before, and by the indoor conference meet, Justin had leaped 5’4”.  Then, after a few more months training, he cleared 5’7” at our outdoor conference Championships in mid-May, finishing third overall at the Sophomore level.  I was so proud of him.  As he improved, his confidence grew.  I saw him come out of his shell a bit, walk a little taller.  This year he will enter as a major asset for our team, no longer reluctant to join, but proud to be a part.  We want that for you, too.

taylor-with-results

I literally stopped Justin Taylor in the hallway to ask him to consider coming out for Track. Less than half a year after that conversation he finished third at the Conference championships.

2) It is measurable

Young man, one advantage of Track is we can neatly chart your progress.  We won’t have to guess if you are improving.  We can measure objectively.  We know Justin became a better high jumper by May than he was in January.  Pick some events.  We’ll see what marks you achieve in your first few attempts.  We’ll see what marks you get after weeks of practice.  Then, where you are towards the end of your first season.  And, if we are fortunate, we’ll see where you finish as a senior as compared to when you first started.  It is my coaching imperative to help you improve.  If you are willing to work at it, I am confident you will.

track-1600-graph

Technology is better now, but back in 2013 I literally used graph paper and pen to chart out the four year progression of all our distance runners in the 1600. One thing I love about Track is that every guy can have the chance to earn recognition because every guy can improve. You might not be our fastest guy, but if you work hard and get faster, we’ll be thrilled for you.

I am a Cross Country Coach in the Fall, and I love that sport, but there is no fair way to compare times from Cross Country courses: some are flat, some hilly, some just under 3.0 miles, some just over.  Terrain varies.  But in Track, you can fairly compare your mark against athletes your age across the entire nation.  We could argue endlessly about who the best high school football player or basketball player in the nation is, but there is no dispute about who is the nation’s fastest prep sprinter (last year, that would be Noah Lyles of Alexandria, Virginia, who ran 10.16!) or best triple jumper (Illinois’ own Ja’Mari Ward of Cahokia who hop, skipped, and jumped a national record 53’7.5″last season).  In fact, if you really want to see what it takes to be among the nations’ best in Track and Field, start studying here: https://www.trackandfieldnews.com/index.php/lists

Or, if you just want to see what it takes to be among the best in our own high school’s history, you can look here: https://sites.google.com/site/hctrackteam/Records/outdoor

In reality, the vast majority of guys who join our team won’t break any school records or be on any national lists, but the goal is the same for all of us: to get better.  There is something truly rewarding to know that you are capable today of something you were not capable of previously.  We in Track call that setting a “PR” (Personal Record).  And we celebrate every time a guy on the team sets one.

Here are a few examples of guys from last year’s team who improved throughout the season.  First up, Big Jeff Dang.  Jeff joined Track for the first time last year as a junior.  He weighs 305 pounds and could surely pick me up and throw me.  Still, he’d never picked up a shot put in his life, and would need time to learn the event.  Here was his progression:

2/19-38’5″

3/4-42’3″

3/18-42’9″

4/16-44’9.5″

5/6-45’8.5″

5/13-45.8.75″

Jeff returns this year as one of our top throwers, and for his senior he’ll be coached by a former Olympian, as Tom Putskys, America’s best Javelin thrower for most of the 1990s and 2000s joins our staff.  Under Coach Putskys’ guidance, I am confident we’ll have many more PRs this season to celebrate with Jeff.

Another guy who joined our Track team for the first time later in his career was Steven Coan, who came out last season for his senior year.  He’d played club soccer for his first three springs but since his soccer career had ended and he had friends on the team, he decided to try Track.  It took some time to figure out where he would best fit, but through trial and error, we learned he was a pretty darn good 400 meter runner.

DSC_0460

Steven Coan (class of 2016) kicks down the final straightaway of 400 meter race at Outdoor Conference where he finished a surprising 3rd. Coan played soccer all through high school before joining us as a senior. He made incredible progress in his short time with us.

Here is how Coan improved in the 400 meter event over the course of his one season with us:

3/18-54.38

4/29-51.7

5/6-51.58

5.13-50.70

We love soccer players.  Don’t get nearly enough of them to come out, so strong is the hold of Club Soccer in our community.  But soccer athletes make great Track athletes, having a good balance of both speed and endurance thanks to the demands of their beautiful game. I know Steven feels great about his decision to join Track for his final athletic season, that he gained some memories and friends he’d not otherwise have had.  Which brings me to my next reason you should join track:

3) You’ll make lifelong friends…

My wife and I just sent our Christmas Cards.  We ordered 100.  About half went to family, the rest to friends.  Of those friends, a significant majority are former high school and college teammates (others are families of kids I coach – see #4).  Last month I flew to Seattle to visit college teammates – one lives there, one in Minneapolis, one in San Francisco.  We haven’t been on a team together since 2002, but we’ve managed to see each other 2-3 times a year since then, such is the strength of the bond we created.

Let me tell you a story about myself and our hurdles Coach, John Mariner.  We went to middle school together, than high school.  We were teammates on the Track team at York.  Here is a meet from our senior year where we both won an event:

1998-results

John Marinier is our hurdles coach. In 1998, he and I were teammates at York. John was a star soccer player and also a 3-time all-state Track athlete. Our senior year he finished 4th in the 300 Intermediate Hurdles (.001 from 3rd) and was on the state runner-up 4*400. We finished 2nd in state as a team that year. He and I have the shared vision of improving upon that finish now that we are coaching together.

When we first became friends, we were 11 years old, both 6th graders on the Brian Middle School Cross Country team.  Now, we are 36, each with 1-year old daughters.  That’s a quarter-century of friendship, begun of being teammates and sealed through the bond of high school athletics.  Two other coaches on our staff, Coach Westhphal and Kupres, became friends when they were college teammates at Loyola.  They stood in each other’s weddings and remain close today.

While Track is sometimes called an individual sport in the sense we are all trying to improve upon our own best performances, at this school we will emphasize TEAM most of all.  I want you to see other kids walking through the halls wearing our “HC Track” shirts and know that those guys are your natural allies.

banda

Then Freshman (now Sophomore) Robert Banda getting mentally prepared for his events. Banda broke our freshman indoor record in the Triple Jump last season with a mark of 38’1″. He is wearing the trademark “HC Track” shirt with a new logo that my wife, who is a graphic designer, created for our team.

I want any team victory we might be fortunate enough to earn to feel like it was earned by all of us, and celebrated as such.  There is no better feeling than celebrating TOGETHER.  Why did 5 million people feel the same impulse to get to Chicago, despite all the inconvenience they knew they’d face, to be there for the parade celebrating the World Series champion Cubs?  It is because they wanted to feel like they were a part of something amazing.  That is what I want for you, young man – to help you authentically earn that feeling.  HC has not won Varsity Conference since 2002, and has done so only once since WWII.  That is our goal for this year.  Come join us!  There is no guarantee we will achieve the goal, but we never will if we don’t try.  And if we succeed, many what an amazing feeling that will be!

ben-s

Charlie Gelman (foreground) and Ben Schnieders (background, with his famous hair) are two of the best ‘team guys’ I’ve ever had the privilege of coaching. Here they are in the bleachers of York’s field house rooting hard for their teammates at the Indoor conference meet last season. We did not win, but we did improve more than any other team in our conference from the previous year.

4) …and gain lifelong mentors

As your coach, I will form a stronger bond with you than I would if I were only your teacher.  I know I am not supposed to say that, as I was once told by an administrator that I am to be a “teacher first, coach second” (I don’t think those roles can be separated).  The truth is that I teach one-semester Sophomore elective courses.  I get to know my students for half a year, then they move on.  If you come out for Track as a freshman, though, we will have four years to get to know each other.  I will invest heavily in our relationship, will strive to help you realize your true potential and to achieve feats you don’t currently think you are capable of.  Track isn’t like soccer, football or baseball.  We aren’t split up by grade level.  You won’t have a different coach as a Sophomore than you did as a Freshman, with yet another Coach assigned when you move to Varsity.  We’ll be your coaches all four years.

I take my role as your coach very seriously.  I promise not to ‘use you’ to burnish my own reputation or to take a win at all costs mentality.  My own high school coach, the legend Mr. Joe Newton, used to tell us, “if you devote yourself to me and our team, I’ll do anything for you.”

newton

This past November, York High School held a retirement celebration for the legendary Cross Country and Track Coach Joe Newton. I had the opportunity to give thanks to Mr. Newton for all he has taught me. I hope I can come close to being as positive a mentor for young people as he was for me and the literally thousands of other athletes he coached.

 

I have tried to live out his words.  Just last week I was contacted by an athlete who I had not heard from in five years.  This athlete did not run all four years for us – he stopped after his junior year to focus on academics.  He will be graduating this spring from UPenn and is applying to join the Air Force, so he wrote to ask me for a letter of recommendation.  I wrote the very best letter I could.  No matter how long its been since you graduated, I will ever remain your steadfast supporter and champion.

I keep a file folder of every positive note I get from a student, teacher, or athlete. It is a small reminder to myself that there is value to what we do in athletics beyond the meet results.  I am going to share some of these notes with you, not because I am bragging, but because I want you to understand the depth of the bond that is created through years of working hard together towards common goals.

So here is Billy Fayette, the first all-state athlete I ever coached, writing to me on the eve of his high school graduation:

You have had an influence on me in a way that you do not realize.  I have learned a lot over my time as an HCXC runner and cherish all the memories I have developed…You have always pushed me to my limits…you have helped me achieve many goals that once seemed impossible and were only part of those ‘dreams’ of mine.  If it wasn’t for you I would never have turned into the runner and the person I am today.”

–Billy Fayette (May 2011)

This very afternoon, Billy and I are getting together to go for a run.  We’ll discus his new job, his family, running, coaching, politics, and any other topic that comes up.  I love winter break because it gives me time to catch up with so many of my former athletes.  Our relationships last far beyond the four years you’ll spend in high school.

Perhaps you think my bond exists only with those Track athletes who do the distance events.  So, here is Chris Kizer, a football player and sprinter, writing to share with me something he included in his college essay:

Coach Lawrence has taught me many lessons about having a true passion for what you do, very hard work, and loyalty to your teammates.  A sport that I barely liked freshman year, I have come to love, and I can honestly say Coach Lawrence has played a huge role in igniting that flame…I can honestly say I have grown from a football player who just did track to get faster, to a runner who loves his team and his sport. I hope that one day I can inspire young men to love something and work at it the way he does.

-Chris Kizer (4/12/10)

And lest you think I only focus on the best athletes on our team, here is an excerpt from a speech given at our annual Track Banquet by Sunil Dommaraju, who entered his freshman year as quite literally the slowest guy on our entire Track team:

That first day, when I walked into the health room where we would hold our daily team meetings, I introduced myself to Coach Lawrence; he immediately responded with a determined smile and welcoming body language. He didn’t look at my bigger body-type and my freshman-sized stature condescendingly. Rather, he saw within me the potential to be a great runner, hard-working athlete, and even more, a mature young man. This is a perfect example of Coach Lawrence’s genuine care not just for the top 12 runners, but for EVERYONE on the team. Some coaches in other sports programs will only care for and nurture his most valuable athletes, and naturally so. But Coach Lawrence doesn’t settle for a few great runners. He wants everyone to revel in the joys of success, personal records, and improvement…Coach has showed a genuine compassion for all athletic levels and he has made our team culture one of hard work and dedication. That first time trial my freshman year in cross country, I ran a 9:29 for the mile because I couldn’t even run the second mile, and since then, with the guidance of Coach, I have improved immensely to a PR of 5:18. Thank you Coach Lawrence for being a great mentor. I will never be able to repay you for teaching me so many life lessons. You have personally made a huge impact on my life and for that I am forever grateful.

-Sunil Dommaraju, May 2015

It’s humbling to re-read these notes, but inspiring, too.  Your four years here will go by fast, but they will be incredibly formative years in your life.  Should joining Track be part of your high school experience?  Consider discussing this tonight with your parents/guardians.  I can say with confidence that most parents of athletes who have been in our program will testify to the positive impact participation in Track had on their sons.  Here is a note from the parents of Alex Orton, one of the first athletes I coached who was involved in Football, Wrestling, Cross Country, and Track during his four years at HC:

Hi Coaches.  Now that Alex is about to graduate, we have been thinking a lot lately about how thankful we are about the 4 years he has spent at Central.  Attending Central ended up being a wonderful experience for him, and for his parents.  He has done well academically, in sports and made great friends.  Hard to beat that.  But maybe most importantly, he was mentored early and often by influential teachers and coaches.  The role that you guys have played in Alex’s development as his track and XC coaches, as teachers and for being an overall positive influence cannot be underestimated.  Please accept our sincerest gratitude for all that you have done to help shape Alex into the man he is today, and to prepare him for life after Central.

-Kathy and Tom Orton, parents of Alex (4/25/09)

I saw Alex at a team reunion last summer.  He is enrolled at Chiropractic College at National University in Lombard, an institution my own father used to teach at.  We hadn’t spoken for years, but upon seeing him again I was immediately taken back in memory to 2008 when he and his teammates, a fun-loving bunch to be sure, became our first group to qualify for the IHSA Cross Country Championships as a team.  I am honored to have played some role in Alex’s development, and hope to do the same for you.

So, you’ll have close friends and mentors, but another reason to come is

5) It is good for you

“The Stars of Track and Field are Beautiful People”

– Belle and Sebastian.

You can be Prince Fielder and still excel in baseball, or BJ Raji and still be a solid football player.  Track athletes are some of the fittest athletes you’ll ever see.

raji-fielder

Ever see any Track and Field Olympic medalists (non-throwers) with these body types ?

There are a lot of unhealthy behaviors high school students engage in: drug and alcohol use most obviously, but also poor sleep schedules, bad nutrition habits, irregular schedules.  Track can be an anchor.  It helps you organize your day, and allows you to get in your daily exercise, helping you to feel good about yourself.

Studies show that your environment shapes your individual choices.  If most people around you smoke, you are far likelier to start smoking.  So why not surround yourself with people who are really in shape, striving to get even fitter?  Our goal is to create a supportive and healthy environment to help you flourish.

But don’t take my word for it.  Here is a former athlete of mine, Mark Gesior, who wrote me during his freshman year of college to express regret for his decision NOT to come out for Track during his senior year:

…but I realized that with other people behind you, you can tackle almost anything.  Skipping out on the track season my senior year was probably one of the worst mistakes I have made ever.  On the team, each and every single guy had my back…At the time it felt like the cool thing to do, that I…was going to go out and live my life and escape the long runs and escalations that had been making my life hell. I can honestly say that the extra semester of sleeping in on weekends, and going home right after school was not worth it at all.  Now especially, I am realizing that you are who you are because of the people you surround yourself with.  And when I was surrounded by runners, I was a runner.

I share Mark’s words with his permission, as he wrote to me that he hopes others will not follow his lead.  I am happy to say that Mark is now a senior at Marquette University and will be graduating this spring.  Our relationship remains as strong as ever.  Even if you quit while in high school, I will respect you for at least trying out.

Our group will be supportive.  It will also be composed of individuals from many different backgrounds, which leads to the final reason you should do Track:

6)  It is diverse.

Let’s talk about race.  It’s a subject that makes people uncomfortable.  I teach African American History.  I am white.  This is an issue we need to be more open about.  Diversity is a strength.  Diversity also takes hard work.  By definition, diversity means you have people with different backgrounds, experiences, and values, which means tension is almost inevitable.  One reason I love Track is that every year we have one of the most diverse teams.  In part, this is because our team is large.  In part, it is because there are so many different events to choose from, and we feed from many different sports.  What unifies people?  A common goal is a positive unifying force. Joining track will allow you to join with other boys your age who may be different than you in many respects.  We can at least start to get to know each other on the basis of equality by our shared commitment to the goal of winning Conference.

diversity-1

Top from Left: All-State Pole Vaulter Steven Chun (class of 2015), Hurdler Shawn Zhou (class of 2016), sprinter Trent Riggins-Walker (class of 2019). Bottom from Left: all-state 3200 runner Blake Evertsen competing here against eventual Footlocker Midwest Cross Country Champion Danny Kilrea of Lyons Township, Hinsdale South’s 1:53 800 guy Brian Jordan running against Andrew Irvine (class of 2016) at last year’s Sectional 4*800, school record holder Nick Piker (class of 2013) hurling the discus.

Now I am not naive.  I don’t think mere participation on a Track Team will salve the nations’ racial wounds.  But Track and Field has been a venue of greater equality than many other realms in American life and culture.  In a Track race, unlike life, everyone begins on the same starting line.  We all know the story of Jessie Owens’ heroics in the 1936 ‘Hitler Olympics’ where he disproved with his foot speed the lie at the heart of Nazi ideology.  Somewhat less well-known is the courage displayed by African American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics when both raised a fist in the black power salute while on the victory podium for their gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter dash.  Smith and Carlos hoped to draw attention to the fact that they were running for a nation which treated them as second-class citizens, and they faced intense criticism (were black-listed for jobs, too) for their actions.  This was 1968, a year even more tense than 2016, when America really was on the verge of tearing apart.  In a rare display of contrition, the USOC actually invited Smith and Carlos to join the current Olympians on their visit to the White House this past September, showing recognition at long last that their protests were, in fact, patriotic, and not anti-American as many argued at the time.  It frustrates me how many of my students have formulated opinions about a more recent controversial figure, Colin Kapernick, without ever knowing anything about Smith and Carlos.

On the Track team, we will teach you our sport’s history, one in which African Americans have played a prominent role, from Owens, Smith, and Carlos to Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, and Alyson Felix.  Track is a sort of utopia in that it really is true that people won’t be judged on the color of their skin, but rather the results from their event – it is the ultimate meritocracy.  People will respect you for your achievements, no matter what other misconceptions or unfair judgments they might make of you.

And that ain’t much, but it is something.

Well, young man, thanks for hearing me out.  I hope you’ll join us.  The season starts January 23rd, and we’ll be meeting in the Dance Studio at 3:15.  It you’d like to learn more, take a look at our website: www.hctrack.org or come see me in room 282.  I hope to see you on the big red oval!

 

 

 

State Recap – 2016

The 2016 Cross Country season officially began in mid-June, and as a kick-off event we hosted a guest speaker, Donn Behnke, the former head coach of Wisconsin Stevens Points High School and author of the recent book “The Animal Keepers.”  The idea for brining Behnke in to Illinois to speak to high school cross country athletes originated with Paul Vandersteen, the wise and genial coach of Neuqua Valley.  Paul knew that I had enjoyed Behnke’s book because I’d posted a note on social media about it, and on that basis, he asked if we wanted to coordinate the event with him.

This was long before the results of today’s meet were known to anyone, and though Neuqua appeared to have many good returning runners, we’d had, at that point, no inclination of the immense success they would come to enjoy, capped off by this afternoon’s state title, their third since 2007.

The theme of Behnke’s book, though, is not about winning (not really) but rather about the power of team, the virtue of inclusion, and sport as an ennobling pursuit.  It’s a story about a misfit kid from a group home who came out for the team, how he defied his coach and teammates’ expectations by being a fearsome competitor, and about how they, in turn, rallied to provide the network of support and care that he’d been deprived of in his life to that point.

In his speech to the gathered runners (which included athletes from future trophy teams Downers Grove North, Minooka, and Neuqua, as well as many of our athletes) Behnke recalled that 1985 season, one which was also marked by the birth of his daughter.  He talked about how, in that season, he made the transition from ‘Coach as big brother’ to ‘Coach as parent.’

One year ago, as we headed to state, my wife Megan was 8.5 months pregnant.  This year, as I left the house on Friday morning, I kissed goodbye to her and our 11.5 month old daughter Clio.  Like the season Behnke documented in his book, this was my first as a parent.  And like him, I felt the transition from being viewed by the boys I coached as a cooler older sibling to being viewed more as an authority figure – by turns disciplinarian and compassionate.

This season was not an easy one, but, now that the results are known, it is one of which we can be proud.  What made this year more difficult than the last few was that, after three years of legitimately being in the trophy hunt, this year we learned through some particularly difficult lessons  that earning top three in state was not going to be a very realistic goal.  And, in truth, it was harder to stay motivated and to face the challenge of weeks of rigorous training in face of the knowledge that a trip upon the podium was not likely to be our reward.  As a consequence, our team struggled to find our footing early on.  Though our finishing places were toward the top at all meets we ran, the truth was that throughout the regular season, we did not have a single meet where we felt we’d run the best we were capable of on the varsity level.  What ultimately got us back on track was changing our focus from outward to inward.  As we approached state, we had a new and more meaningful goal: to run in a way that left us with no regrets.

No mention was made of place goals in our team meetings Friday Night and Saturday morning.  We focused instead on the process, one aspect of which was to appreciate the opportunity to run in the state championships at beautiful Detweiller Park, a place heaving with the weight of history.  Detweiller Park’s golden hued trees are an integral part of the state cross country experience.  Those leaves, Autumn’s emblem, call to mind the inevitable passage of time.  Our current top 7 were once freshmen and sophomores who came down to watch the state meet on the team fan bus.  Several of the current freshmen and sophomores came down this year, and a few of them will, in a year or two, be the new top 7.  The first year we qualified as a team during my coaching tenure, 2008, I was dating Megan but not yet engaged.  Now we are married and parents.  The first year I ran in the state meet was twenty years ago, in 1996.  My coach, Mr. Newton, was than 67 years old.  Now he is 87 and tomorrow I will attend his retirement celebration at York High School in Elmhurst.  The Cubs just won the world series.  The world turns.  A new era is upon us.

Of Mr. Newton, let it be said, that no man ever did more for the sport of Cross Country in the state of Illinois, let alone the nation.  That the Illinois State Meet has become the festive, electric, and competitive event it now is would never have been possible without him.  His success as a coach will, of course, be unmatched, but the success of our state is also to his eternal credit.

When I ran in my first state meet two decades ago, our team finished 5th, and we left the course hanging our heads, believing that we’d let down our coach and the legions of York runners who’d come before us.  Shockingly, 5th was at that point the worst York finish in 27 years.  If there is one way I depart from my old coach, it is in thinking it unfair to measure each new team I coach against all those that came before.  The only appropriate measure can be whether each group of kids became the best they, collectively and individually, could be.  So, 20 years ago, the team I ran on finished 5th and felt despondent, while today, the team I coach for finished 6th, and I feel proud, at peace with the reality that the boys I coach earned an end result that represents pretty damn near close the best finish of which we were capable.

I am proud of Blake Evertsen, who mustered every reserve he had to finish 19th in state.  I know his aspirations were higher, that he finished 4th a year ago.  But I saw him with 300 to go and it was clear his tank was empty.  I feared he would fade into the 30s or 40s, or jog in having seen his dream of a top finish elude his grasp.  Instead, he fought on.  In the end, that helped our team immensely, as the gap between 6th and 7th place was a mere 2 points.  He is the best runner I’ve ever coached.  Hell, in the first race of our season he outkicked Soren Knudsen, who today become the state champion with a blistering time of 14:02.  He is headed to Harvard next year, so it is safe to say his future is bright.  I hope he will take pride in his performance today and in his preparation this season.

I am proud of Sean O’Connell, who suffered through some very rough races in the early part of our season, but finished today as our second man in a personal best time of 15:10.  He will be a leader of our team next season, and I have total confidence in his ability to rise to that challenge.  Sean is tough, savvy, cerebral, and witty.  He is a super talented athlete and I still don’t know how we managed to be so lucky as to win him over from the baseball team, but I am grateful every day that he committed to us.

I am proud of Sam Fathizadeh, who probably had the most frustrating season of any member of the top 7, but who showed up today when it counted the most and finished as our 3rd man.  After Sectionals, we faced a very difficult decision about who would be on our top 7, and gave serious consideration to appointing Sam as our first alternate.  We ultimately decided to place our faith in him knowing he’d had a year of experience running at state and that his workouts had been strong.  Today, Sam vindicated that decision and changed the tenor of his entire season in a single race.  The stress fracture, bad races, and twisted ankles are all now in the past, road blocks overcome by a kid who never gave up.

I am proud of Ryan Doorhy, who crashed and burned in his first two meets of the season before we discovered that he was anemic, with Ferritin levels of 10 (less than 30 is considered unhealthy).  It’s been a long road back for this gritty senior.  My last observation point during the race was near the tall pine trees which mark the spot where 300 meters remains in the race.  Of everyone in our top 7, no one today was kicking harder here than Ryan.  He likely passed 20 athletes in the final stretch.  That will be my last cross country memory of him, summoning his strength to kick furiously.

I am proud of Jan Erik Naess, who finally decided to go ‘all in’ to Cross Country this season and finished as our all important 5th man.  As anyone on our team can attest, no one on our team smiles more than him (for our annual mock awards ceremony, he was presented with maple syrup to honor his Canadian heritage and toothpaste to honor his infectious grin), and his positive attitude was a good ingredient to add to our mix this season.

I am proud of Ethan Planson, who took a risk today by trying to be all-state – it cost him, but he dared to go there, which few too many athletes do.  Ethan was our 6th man – the 4th best 6th man in state.  He has trained hard for a long time, even when there were times when it was not coming easily to him.  Running is a joy for some, a chore for others.  For Ethan, I suspect, it is a bit of both, but his allegiance to his teammates is his most important value, and for them he gave his all.  We are all richer for that sacrifice.

I am proud of Neil Cumblerland, who, I know, did not have the race he wanted today, but who earned valuable experience which we will count on next season.  Neil is studious, methodical, and responsible (an eagle scout!), all virtues common to great distance runners.  He finished the entire season without injury, which in itself was a significant achievement and which has allowed him to build a foundation for future success, which I know he will have.

I am proud of Ben Schnieders, Jacob Belgrad, Sam Schiavitti, Colin Yandel, and Alec Hill.  These five composed the remaining members of the top 12 we were able to admit to the state series.  To earn that distinction was a challenging task on a team as deep as ours.  I only wish seniors Ben and Jacob had gotten a chance to run at state.  On well over half of the teams that made state, they’d have been in the top 7.  Those two did every bit as much work as our top 7, and are every bit as tough.  I will miss them both dearly next year.  As for Sam, Colin, and Alec, the talk about next year has already happened.  It’s been inspiring to watch our neighbors at DGN make a huge jump in one year (from 18th to 2nd).  These three boys will form a core along with Sean, Neil, and many others as we attempt to follow suit.

I am proud of all the HCXC runners who showed themselves to be teammates in the truest sense by making the long journey down to Peoria to watch us today.  This includes (by memory) freshmen Carter McCarroll, Mason Steere, Magnus Naess, Jack Kinsey, and Lincoln Virant, Sophomores Matt Kusak, Keegan Caveney, Brandon Belgrad, Charlie Carter, Fletcher Spillers,  Anshul Sankaran, Liam Walsh, James Giltner, and Bradley Davis, Juniors John Wheeler, Liam Bots, Jack Borys, Alex Choi, Joe Glasby, and Steven Zaher and seniors John Bynan, Michael Chadwell, Nicky Midlash, Joe Miscimarra, and Emmett Grundberg (who earns special recognition for being true to his word of supporting the team even after making the painful decision not to come out his senior year).

And I am proud (always proud) of our alumni.  Thanks to TJ Caveney, Matt Tobia, Sean O’Flaherty, and Billy Fayette for your support today.  All the guys I mentioned in the previous paragraph will eventually join your ranks.  It is such a privilege to have coached you guys, such an honor to be able to continue to coach your younger brothers, be they literal (in TJ’s case) or metaphorical.

On Tuesday, we’ll have an election, and the third of three months-long narratives will be resolved (baseball and cross country being the other two).  In this time of maximum national division, let us reflect on the power of cross country to bring us together, bound by our common quest of becoming the best we can be.

2016-The Final Sendoff

 

Section 1: The Freshman

To the men of HCXC,

Your presence has affected the beginning of my running career. Whether it was a friendly “hello” in the hallway, or a quick word of encouragement before, during, or after a race you guys have made me want to commit to the HCXC program. You guys are the hard working, competitive, committed runners that I would like to be in another 3 years. Run hard, run confident and compete. Go Devils.

-Emmett Drew (class of 2020)

To the men of HCXC

You guys are the greatest around. Just being on the same team as you guys, us younger guys have learned so much about the demeanor, dedication, and pain it takes to have success in this sport. We see day in and day out the sacrifices you guys make for the sport, and the toughness you guys show in races. You guys are also largely responsible for the unity in this team. You guys genuinely care for each and all of your fellow teammates, from freshman to senior, and slowest to fastest. You guys are tremendous role models for me and the rest of the freshman and I’d sincerely like to thank you for that. Best of luck down in Peoria! You guys definitely deserve all the success!

-Chinmay Amin (class of 2020)

 

To the men of HCXC,

By watching you guys run this year, I have seen what a great team really looks like. Our freshmen team has a long way to go before we are ready to ride that bus up to Peoria, but you guys have shown us what a hard working cross country team can accomplish. We wish you the best of luck and go Devils!

From,   Will Fahy (class of 2020)

 

As state rolls by, I would like to wish you all good luck. You varsity guys are my inspiration as you fight for our school and try your best. I strive to be just like each and every one of you. For that, thank you. Keep on fighting and do your best at state!!!

Sincerely, Patrick Hsiao (class of 2020)

 

To the men of HCXC,

This state meet is something I am aspiring to attend within the following three years, and clearly you guys have earned it this time.   Thanks to all of you, I’ve made the decision to dedicate my time and effort into cross country, just as you have done throughout your high school careers.  This is your last cross country meet for those of you seniors, so run this out as hard as you can for the Red Devils, you guys are perfectly capable of running your absolute best for this meet, you’ve worked up to this moment and all of you are ready. Thanks for inspiring all of us to work hard as you guys have done, we really appreciate it.

Mason Steere (class of 2020)

 

To the men of HCXC,

More appropriately, my upperclassmen, role models, and inspiration for running. I can still remember clearer than ever, the day back in 6th grade when Ryan Doorhy ran from his house to come visit us at our Westview ‘summer camp’. Even back then, I was completely motivated and utterly amazed at the passion and love that he had amounted for this sport. And so, four years ago, before most of you reading this even heard my name, all of you were unknowingly carrying my dreams and passions of running on your back. You guys, who have dedicated yourself to this grueling sport, giving in hours and hours of training to reach the pinnacle of competition that all of you will face at Detweiller. You guys, who are the reason I can say with both confidence and pride, that I am part of the Hinsdale Central Cross Country program. I wish you all the best of luck down in Peoria, and I have no doubt that all of you will perform at the peak of your abilities during the race. As Coach Lawrence would say, MATCH UP! And go Devils!

With great respect, Aaron Lu (class of 2020)

 

 

To the men of HCXC,

Watching the effort you guys put in has truly made me the runner I am today. Since the summer after seventh grade, I have watched you put in the effort daily into this sport. Just you guys being there for the rest of the team, saying “hello” in the hallway, or telling us we can do it, and encouraging us in the race, you are the ones that made me commit to running. All of you put the effort day in and day out to the sport and this program. Run hard, and leave everything out there. You are the most committed runners I have seen and I know you guys can do it. Go Hinsdale Central.

From,  Steven Rakos (class of 2020)

 

Section 2: Alums

Men,

I’ll keep it brief because I know this packet is thick. June 13th – November 5th. You guys have put in 145 days of grueling work for tomorrow. Keep your emotions in check and just try and enjoy every moment of your trip. Especially Basta. Gotta love Basta. As for the race you know what to expect and you’re all prepared for it. You’ve gotten out quickly all season long and have done plenty of workouts to mimic the start. Go get em’ men. Turn some corners, turn some heads.

– Nathan Hill, Class of 2016

 

Thank you. Thank you for representing Hinsdale Central so well over the past several months. The miles you have trained and the miles you have raced have given me an opportunity for pride in my school.

I’m sure you all watched the historic Game 7 that ended the Cubs 108-year drought. Most of you, I assume, were excited, barring Doorhy. My favorite quotes from the episode were Anthony Rizzo’s pregame “There’s no tomorrow after tomorrow,” and Dexter Fowler’s postgame “I feel like we played a whole season in one game.” Those two short quotes contain a preponderance of wisdom. When it comes down to the final moment, you have an amazing opportunity to race one last time. An opportunity to show the state the work you’ve put in on the grandest of stages. And then, after it’s over, the season will be finished and that one race will have felt like a lifetime. Both the Cubs and the Indians may be satisfied in knowing they gave their whole effort to a season’s worth of baseball in one Game 7. That is the ultimate success. To look back and know you held nothing back at the critical moment. And in that way, the most important way, both the Cubs and the Indians are ultimately successful. My only hope is that you may find the same success in Peoria.  Lastly, I’d like to remind you that this team has so many reasons to be proud of what it’s accomplished already. You have inspired me to be the best runner I can be, and I am indebted to you for that.

I wish you the very best of luck,

Matt McBrien, Class of 2015

 

Dear men of HCXC,

Looking back at my high school running experience, I have one piece of advice to share: Remember why you run. I’m not talking about “running for your brothers” or “racing to win” or “become better, faster, stronger.” I’m talking about why did you, that very first day after the bell rang, walk into the Health Room and go for a run. I didn’t join HCXC to win a championship or because I wanted to become the fastest, I joined because I liked to run. It turned out, there was a place at Central for people like me. Over time, I discovered that the hard work that being on a championship-caliber team entailed was less palatable, and I certainly trained and raced for the reasons above, but at the end of the day, I just loved lacing up my shoes on a beautiful fall day and hearing the leaves crunch under my feet.

For some of you, the past three and a half years together have been filled with laughs and memories, and you will cherish those moments forever. They’ve been made with your teammates sharing something you love. On Saturday, you and those same teammates will be set up behind a bold, white line separating two hundred cross country athletes from three miles of hell. Those three miles will not be easy, and you’ll need the strength of your training and your brothers to conquer it.  But, just before the gun goes off, take a step back and take in the moment. You’re doing what you love on the biggest stage of your high school career. What could be better than that?

Have fun,

Max Maydanchik , Class of 2015

 

 

Men,
Congrats on taking care of business! You have battled hard this year throughout the ups and downs of the season whilst gaining the needed traction for State. But now, it’s time to seize the opportunity you’ve earned. Take the Peoria experience in, but don’t let it slip away. It’ll go by quicker than you can imagine. Believe in yourself, trust your coaches, trust your teammates, trust yourself! Fight, fight, fight. Run smart, run hard, and you’ll find the good luck HCXC. Keep it Simple Red Devils!  Run Free.
Billy Fayette, Class of 2011

 

Gents, trust your training, you have more in the tank than you think!  You have great coaches: listen to them and you’ll have a great State!

Sincerely, S. T. Allen ’80

LtCol, USMC (Ret.)

 

To the men of HCXC

It has been 35 years since I competed at the IHSA State Meet.  Everything is relative, but it is a great achievement even to qualify for the state meet.  I still remember relatively vividly my experience there.  So my advice is simple

  1.  Enjoy your experience
  2.  Go out fast.  A fast doesn’t guarantee a great race but a slow start will doom your chances.
  3.  Stay focused
  4.  Stay in the race.  It is over before you know it.
  5.  Give it everything you have and focus on your race.  (Strange things happen at Championship races.  We were never supposed to win Big Tens, but we did.  We all ran well and the other teams didn’t run so well.)
  6.  Before and after the race sit down and take a few minutes to take in the whole experience and realize what great things you have accomplished.

Congratulations on reaching the State Meet.  Good luck.  I look forward to seeing the results and I look forward to great things from all of you next week and in the future.

All my best

Paul Kivela,   Class of 1982

 

Section 3: Friends and Family

To the men of HCXC:

It seems only yesterday we were writing our first letters to the XC team competing that first Saturday in November…but that was 2012! Although Matt is now a sophomore at GA Tech and we are living in NYC, we still check the results for HCXC and follow along!

Congratulations to all of you! As you make the trip to Peoria, enjoy every minute!  Remember all the days, the laughs, and the pain that got you here. Some of you this is your senior year and for some the first trip. Remember as you get to the line those that came before and those that will come after. You are part of an awesome legacy! Take a deep breath and run for your teammates, run for your coaches and run for yourself!  Leave nothing back. This is what you’ve worked so hard for. And know that near and far you will have people cheering on the men in red and white!!

GO HCXC!!!

Ann & Ed McBrien (Parents of Matt McBrien, class of 2015)

 

To All the Hinsdale Central Cross Country Team

WOW!  You men have done an outstanding job this year of running well, increasing your best times, meeting your personal and team goals, and maintaining the proud and long standing tradition of Central Red Devil Cross Country dominance.  Stand Tall, Men!

In years to come, you WILL reflect back on this 2016 State meet and say, “I did my best”; “I gave it my all”, “I have no regrets”, or “I could have done better”.  What will it be?  The choice is yours.

All of your school-mates, friends, family, and coaches are praying cheering for you.

You CAN do it!  You WILL do it!

Run hard and Run smart and you will have done your best.

John & Lois Revell, Grandparents of Ethan Planson

To the fantastic Men of HCXC:

First and foremost, I am so very proud of you all.  I know how much time, effort, blood, sweat and tears goes in to all the training you do to get to this level.  No matter how dedicated you are, it’s not always fun, and I applaud you pushing through the difficult days and times to stick with the program and dedicate yourselves to being the finest runners you can be, regardless of whether that puts you first, 10th, or 25th in the state!

I know the weight of the expectations on your shoulders because of the quality of this program and the legacy of all the runners before you, and having to balance all that Hinsdale Central asks of you. It’s quite a bit to handle, but you do it!

I wish you could know how often you are thought about, each one of you!  We now have a college runner, who grew to love this sport and the camaraderie and friendships that this sport gives through all those miles run around this community – it has been the single most rewarding aspect of his life!  The love of sport and the pride of fair competition is what he learned here, and what he still loves because of HCXC. The discipline and values that you have learned will stand you in great stead for the rest of the years of your lives. To be at state is the thrill of a lifetime – these chances don’t come around very often in life, so above all, appreciate being ALIVE and ABLE to give it your all on this amazing course!  You will have great stories to tell about it, and even better memories.  We are truly all behind you, every stride that you take!  Good luck men – we are so proud!  Do your BEST and never give up!

Wendy Brenk (mother of Chris Brenk, class of 2016)

 

To the HCXC-

Over the years, we’ve watched our 3 sons and daughter compete in sports such as soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball. While we’ve enjoyed watching them all, after watching you boys train and compete, we can say without doubt that the most disciplined, dedicated and impressive athletes are cross country runners. You’ve run in the dark, in the rain, in the snow and in freezing temps without as much as a week off…and tomorrow you will have your moment to run the race of your life. We are all cheering you on from Hinsdale!!

Go Devils!

Lisa & Paul Kusak (parents of Matt)

 

Dear HCXC team and coaches:

All the best as you head to the State Meet in Peoria! What an exciting place to run…enjoy every minute!

We have watched you train and compete since you were freshmen and know that you are ready to take on the rest of the state. Give it all you’ve got, listen to your amazing coaches and trust in each other.

You have the support of all the former HCXC teams and families who will be cheering for you every step of the way.

Go for it! Run fast, be brave and GO RED DEVILS!!!

Sincerely,

Sarah Magnesen (mother of Billy Magnesen, class of 2014, “HCXC Fan for Life”)

 

To the men of HCXC,

Wear the white proud!!  Push down the jitters and run like the wind is at your back. Have gratitude for being healthy, young and able to move at the speed of light!

Last year at state did not end the way that you wanted.  This year you have a chance to change the ending and leave Detweiller with smiles on your faces.

I cannot wait to see Blake way up front and then a swarm of Devils to follow!!  Picture us calling out your name and cheering for you every step of the way as you ascend, make your turns, move up the pack and sprint to the finish!!

You all are amazing!  Our family has enjoyed these four years immensely! Ryan and the rest…do your best and know that we are very proud of you!!!   God bless,

Mary Kay Doorhy   Mathematics Teacher – Hinsdale Central

 

What a huge accomplishment and honor it is to represent Hinsdale Central at State.  You have all worked so hard this summer and all season and deserve the chance to go to Peoria and show everyone what your team is made of.  To those running, the Hill Family wishes you each the race of your life on Saturday.  To the alternates, be proud, enjoy the experience and be ready if your team needs you.  To the coaches, thank you for your leadership and passion and for helping these young men get to this place.  We will be rooting for you all the way – Go Red Devils!

Eden, Nathan and Colin Hill

Run hard. Have fun. Go Red Devils!

We’re rooting for you,

The Ricker Family

 

To the HCXC men and Coaches,

It is 1:40 in the morning and I am exhausted from the emotional highs and lows of watching the Cubs win the World Series. Yeehah! Victory is sweet but the big take away for me listening to all the players and coaches being interviewed is how they all talk about their teammates and how they are there for each other. It is not about individual glory but a true team effort and I first saw this up close in the Hinsdale cross country program that my son was a part of. So for the top 7 running in Peoria, run for yourselves and your coaches and teammates and enjoy every moment of it. And for everyone on the team be so proud that you willingly chose to be a part of a very very hard sport that pushes you every day.

We will be rooting for you on Saturday!!!

Rick and Maureen Scully (parents of Emmett Scully, class of 2014)

 

Congratulations on qualifying again for the State meet!  You are part of a proud tradition and have done the work and logged the miles to get to this day.  Know that your family, friends and teammates past and present are behind you all the way.  Go out today and run the race you’ve imagined.  Good luck Red Devils!!

The Cumberland Family

 

Top 12:

By now you have read several passages from friends and family wishing good luck and providing words of wisdom.  All that we ask of you is to remember when you first felt the joy of running.  Remember the first time you had success running and wanted to take it to the next step… committing your time and energy.  You were the pursuer, and began to rapidly pass others by.  Remember that time, put it your heart and use that when you are out on the course.

Seniors, this is your last race as a Red Devil. Relish this time and remember each moment.

Visualize the days when you rapidly passed the others by…THIS is your day.

We are so very proud of you.

-Craig & Jennifer Planson

 

To the Men of HCXC,

This has not been the easiest of seasons. You know this. But greatness does not come from easy. It comes from learning how to deal with challenges, and challenges there have certainly been this season. Now it is time to put those lessons to use. Now is your moment. You are running well, running strong, and running like a team. Saturday is the perfect time to peak, and peak you will! You know Detweiler. You know your opponents. You know how well you are capable of running! You KNOW you can do this!  And we know you can do this too!  GO HCXC!

Sue O’Connell (Sean’s Mom)

 

Dear State-bound Hinsdale Central Cross Country Runners, I am looking forward to seeing this team turn in a season-best performance at Detweiller this coming Saturday. I realize this season hasn’t consistently lived up to the expectations you had for yourselves just yet, but you’ve done all the right things in terms of focus, workouts, etc. Saturday, November 5th is the day you put it all together. You guys have the talent, depth and preparation to make some noise on Saturday. Embrace the moment!

Rob Schnieders

 

Best of luck tomorrow! Remember to stay focused, believe in your training and don’t hold back at the finish. You’ve got this!  -Mrs. Lawrence

 

Dear Coach and Runners:

You worked hard, spent time and effort to get to this point. Your endurance and hard work eventually will be rewarded.

Wish you good luck

Masoud Fathizadeh

 

To the men of HCXC-

It was my pleasure to talk with a number of you this summer during your training and team-building trip to UW-Parkside.

First, I want to wish you well in the state meet. Your coaches have prepared you, the tough team and individual competition in the WSC Silver has prepared you, and you have prepared yourself through hard training and self-discipline, honed to a fine edge by your dedication to the sport and to your teammates.

Second, race smart. Stay within yourself and know when you should or should not make a move. It’s easy to say “Run fast!”—as many fans will urge. That’s all well and good, but in cross country place is what counts and the fast time will come if you adhere to your race plan.

Third, embrace the state meet experience. This is one of those “forever moments” that will stay in your mind as a one-of-a-kind bonding experience with your teammates that will linger in your memory long after everyone has forgotten the results. And if you’re a bit awed or slightly nervous, don’t sweat it. The guy from the other team next to you on the starting line is feeling the same.

Hinsdale Central has built a terrific legacy in cross country over the last few years.  Remember that you are not only running for your current coaches and current teammates but also for coaches and teams of the past—whether they ran well or not—because they all contributed, just by competing, to making the program the success and model for others that it is today.

Run for future HCXC runners, too. Maybe a seventh or eighth grader who’s never run a step will be inspired by something one of you does at state and figure that he can do that as well.

Good luck, guys.  Best wishes,

Don Kopriva

 

Congratulations on continuing the Red Devils streak of consecutive state finals appearances.  Thank you to the seniors for your leadership, beginning as freshmen when HCHS won its first state title in 2013.   Nobody knows Detweiller better than this team, and this coaching staff.   Good luck on Saturday to #RunHCXC!”

Thank you.

Brent Hill (father of Alec)

 

To the men of HCXC,

At the pasta dinner last week, it was evident what an honorable group of young men you are.  For our family, it has been a privilege to watch you all grow both as young men and dedicated runners.  These four years of sharing the cross country experience will be some of our best memories.

The coaches have gotten you incredibly prepared physically.  Keep in mind all the people who share the support of the Red Devils around the world.  Run for them and run for your teammates.  You represented yourselves very well at Regionals, which was the last KLM race for the seniors.  Do the same at your last Detweiller race.  I can’t wait to see you guys run to your full potential on Saturday.  Good luck!

Brendan Doorhy

Coach Westphal and Lawrence, we send our best wishes to you and the boys for the state xc meet  this weekend in Peoria! The team is so incredibly focused and an inspiration to many; and this will definitely be reflected in the results on Saturday!! Thank you for a great season…Go Red Devils!!😍

Best wishes,

the Gerami family

On to State

The course at Midlothian Meadows has always proved challenging for us.  Since 2012, its been our biennial Sectional destination, the final hurdle to clear to earn the coveted invitation to compete at the Illinois high school Cross Country championships.  In 2012, we were bruised and battered by the race’s end, but did just enough to qualify for state.  A week later, we bounced back with a 12th place finish, at that point, our best finish in 14 years, and in so doing laid the groundwork the following year’s state championship.  In 2014 we returned as favorites only to be blasted by an emerging Sandburg group who put 5 in front of our second with a sterling 9 second split.  Somehow, a week later, we turned the tables to win our second consecutive state championship.  This year, we were not the favorites, but understood that so long as we stayed within ourselves, a return to Peoria would be the likely outcome.  In that regard, we accomplished our mission.  We were not as sharp as we could be, but neither did we fold under pressure.  Our men ran composed, establishing positions by the midpoint of the race and holding steady through to the final chute.

The state-bound team was composed today of:

Blake Evertsen – 8th – Our lead-man since his Sophomore year, he was a bit off his game today, though that matters not one whit.  What does is that he’ll be moving on to the state meet, the truest testing ground our state has to offer.

Sean O’Connell – 14th – The junior had his second solid race in a row (and his second 14th place finish in a row).  He is running with confidence and will make his state meet debut next weekend.

Ethan Planson – 21st – The reliable senior returned to the course where he ran his varsity debut two years ago.  Then, he was our 7th runner and just getting some big meet experience.  Now he is a seasoned veteran who will be making his third trip to state next weekend.

Neil Cumberland – 23rd – Neil had perhaps the best race of the day, moving up steadily throughout the race.  He is still only discovering his potential.

Jan Erik Naess – 26th – He might be the most unexpected member of the top seven based on pre-season predictions, but he has been running strong all season and especially his past three races.  The affable Canadian remained poise to finish as our strong fifth man.

Ryan Doorhy -33rd – Another veteran, Ryan struggled a little with the heat and mud, but gamely held on to finish in the top 35.  He’s run in state for both Cross Country and Track and thus will be unfazed by the crowds of Detweiller when he toes the line next week.

Sam Fathizadeh-41st – Sam burst onto the scene last year, emerging from obscurity to join the top 7.  However, he’s faced considerable adversity since then, a stress fracture sidelining him for his entire junior track season.  The road back has been a difficult one, but he’s fought to keep both injury and doubt at bay.  He managed to push through pain today to finish as the second best 7th man in the meet.

Ben Schnieders, Jacob Belgrad, Sam Schiavitti, Alec Hill, and Colin Yandel are our alternates for this year, and each has worked incredibly hard to achieve that distinction.  All five will join us on what has become an annual tradition – and one we hope we can continue far into the future – of making that early November minibus drive through the cornfields of central Illinois to the cross country mecca of Peoria.

On the day before the race, I had read to the competing 12 excerpts of blog posts I had written from back when they were freshmen and sophomores, alluding to the possibility they might one future day have the honor of donning the red and white to represent our team during the state series.  Today, I saw junior Steven Zaher (the embodiment of a ‘team’ guy) and a large Sophomore contingent consisting of Matt Kusak, Keegan Caveney, Bradley Davis, Brandon Belgrad and Anshul Sankaran – all of whom made the drive south to cheer on their older teammates and, I hope and believe, to gain inspiration for their own personal quests to be in the elite final seven one or two years hence.

The duty to inspire now falls to all of us who support HCXC.  As has become our annual ritual, I am putting out a call for current team members, alumni, family, and friends to send a brief note to our squad as they prepare for next weeks’ state championships.  Please address your note ‘to the men of HCXC’ and send to my email at nlawrenc@hinsdale86.org   I will collect all the notes and prepare a packet to give to each of the top 12 to read on the bus ride down to Peoria on Friday.  Thank you, sincerely, to all who have taken the time to read this, and to all of you who have supported us this season and beyond.

Fly the “W”

I am a White Sox fan.  During my first year teaching at Hinsdale Central (2005), the South Siders won their first world series since 1917, which obviously also meant the first title I’d had the pleasure of witnessing in my quarter century of life.  It was a challenging time for me, as I’d recently moved back home to the Chicago suburbs after having spent the previous seven years studying and working in the pastoral fields of Iowa.  Though I did have a year and a half of experience teaching, my first job had been in the tiny farm town of Lamoni, Iowa.  The population of Hinsdale Central high school was literally greater than the population of that rural hamlet, and the sterling academic reputation of my new employer necessitated that I prove my worth.  What is more, though I was back near the town I grew up in, most of my peers had moved away.  I had not yet been around long enough at Hinsdale to have developed any close relationships, and so my first months were punctuated by periods of solitude and occasional loneliness.

I became a White Sox fan because my best childhood friend, a boy named Patrick who lived down the block from me, suggested I should be.  My parents weren’t much interested in professional sports, though both hailed from suburban Detroit and would have claimed the Tigers as their team of choice if pressed.  Patrick’s family were huge Sox fans, though, and since I spent many afternoons playing sports in their backyard, the Pale Hose became my team of choice.  Incidentally, Patrick is also the reason I became a Cross Country runner, as it was he who insisted I not quit after my first day on the middle school team.

On the evening of game four of the 2005 World Series, though, Patrick was half a country away, stationed out in Maryland as a member of the Coast Guard.  My other closest friends were in St. Louis, San Francisco, and Seattle.  I knew I wanted to watch the potential series winner with friends, understood that it is the social aspect of Championships that renders them so memorable and fun.  I called a friend still living in Elmhurst, but could not get a hold of him (this was an era just before text messaging became the norm).  I called another friend, Rob, a former college teammate, and he did agree to watch the game with me, though he was not a Sox fan and thus far less invested than I was in the game’s outcome.   Rob was living on the Northside of Chicago, though attending law school at University of Chicago (his girlfriend, now wife, was enrolled in a graduate program at DePaul).  Of all places, I ended up meeting him at Murphy’s Bleachers, literally across the street from Wrigley Field.  That is correct – I watched my White Sox win their first World Series in 88 years in the shadows of the Friendly Confines.

I was reflecting on that moment last night, as I watched television footage of crowds erupting in celebration after the Cubs secured their first pennant since 1945.  For the many who were not among the extremely privileged select who scored tickets to the game, the impulse seemed to be to gather in groups.  Championship moments are rare in Chicago, and in the sport of baseball come sometimes literally less than once a lifetime.  It was clear that for those for whom being a Cubs fan was integral to identity (a much broader swath of the Middle West, thanks to televised coverage on WGN), who understood the culture and history of the team, and who had endured decades of mediocrity punctured by moments of heartbreak, the need was there to share the victory.  My social media feeds became instantly clogged with friends and acquaintances who could not contain their joy to themselves, who, by posting a message or tweeting out their emotion, sought connection with other celebrants.

Thus is the power of team, whether it be one for whom you’ve been a lifelong fan, or one whom you’re a part.  It is a compact to share a destiny, be it good or bad.  This is something I think we all want, to feel we belong, to have others to suffer with and, perhaps more importantly, to revel with on those rare occasions when the work of months or years pays off in exactly the manner you’d envisioned in your most sincere and earnest imaginings.  This is what I love so much about coaching, to know that Hinsdale Central Cross Country is a program I can become both a lifelong fan and member of, every year bringing with it its share of high emotion.

What the 2016 season will ultimately bring remains as unknown as the outcome of the upcoming Cubs-Indian series.  What story has been written so far though, is of a team slowly coalescing, hitting speed bumps, working through the challenge of absurdly high expectation.  I will make this argument: I believe we have the best #6-10 in the state of Illinois.  No trophies are given for that distinction, but I confess pride in it.  Our full depth was on display at the Regional meet yesterday, where we rested three of our usual top 7, including our top two finishers from Conference, and managed to place all seven of our athletes in the top 12, separated by just 20 seconds.  A trifecta of seniors led the way, with Ryan Doorhy, Ethan Planson, and Jan Erik Naess all finishing within one second of each other in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place.  Ryan and Ethan rebounded nicely from disappointing conference races, while Jan Erik made good the promise he showed in winning the JV race last week.

ethan

Jan Erik Naess, Ethan Planson, and Ryan Doorhy ran a a pack and finshed within one second of each other in 2nd-4th places.

Next came lanky junior Neil Cumberland in 8th, five seconds ahead of teammates Ben Schnieders and Jacob Belgrad who came across together in 9th and 10th.  Both Ben and Jacob are seniors, both are passionate about the sport, and both ran lifetime best times.

Sam Schiavitti finished off a strong junior campaign with a 12th place finish. He ran 15:34 at Detweiller three weeks ago and is our #10 man!  While his racing is likely over for this season, we know he will be among our leaders next year.

In the end, we scored 26 points to easily take the Regional title.  It was our fourth regional title in a row, and the fifth in five years.  We scored one point more than last year, but our 6th and 7th finished lower at Regionals than any team we’ve ever coached.  After a season of frustrating races and plenty of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes it felt good to earn the win, no matter how comparatively small the field was.  For the first time, all seven athletes ran solid races in what we hope portends the pattern for our remaining two competitions.

And, yet, there was touch of pathos in the victory.  We are now facing up closer to the reality that there are going to be some incredibly deserving athletes who do not make our top seven.  They are athletes who would make the varsity of almost every other team in the state save two or three.  They are athletes who have devoted tremendous time and energy in large part because their dream was to represent Hinsdale Central at the Illinois High School state Cross Country meet.  It will be very tough for them and for me when they do not get the opportunity to do so.

Who those athletes are is not yet clear.  Next week, we’ll return a fresh and rested Blake Evertsen, Sean O’Connell, and Sam Fathizadeh to the lineup and will approach the Sectional meet with one simple goal: to advance to the Illinois State Championships and in so doing earn the right to test our mettle against the top programs in the state.  Whichever seven athletes end up representing us at that meet, should we be so fortunate to get there, will have the added weight of knowing they earned a precious chance, one desperately sought by teammates whose hard work most certainly matched their own.  Some guys will get to run, others, just as deserving, will not.  What is most important, though, is that we will be there together.