I am a history teacher. I enjoy thinking about the past, about how certain decisions shaped future events. One important point historians emphasize is that we should be mindful of the fact that people of the past didn’t have the advantage of knowing what the future would bring. When we read, for example, the early letters of Abraham Lincoln (a belated happy 206th birthday to him) we must remember that neither he, nor the person to whom he was writing, had any inclination that he would go on to become the President of the United States, that he would preside over the nation’s bloodiest war, that this ‘Civil War’ would result in the abolition of slavery in America and fundamentally change the course of world history. We readers of today have the benefit of hindsight, but young Mr. Lincoln was simply trying to find his way. Even once the war started, Lincoln had no grand plan, but rather responded to each new crisis as best he could, based on the information available at the time. The outcome of that war was never inevitable, but the result of difficult decisions sometimes hastily made.
What is true of the grand arc of history is also true for each of us: we did not, a decade hence, know what the subsequent years would bring. A combination of choices we make and circumstances thrown our way shaped us into who we are.
Another theme historians love to emphasize is the tension between continuity and change. When we look at a single region at various points in history, what remains the same – and what changes? I am currently taking a graduate level course on the history of the American South. How has “the South” changed over time? What common patterns have always existed? When people think of slavery, the image that often comes to mind is enslaved people picking cotton in Mississippi and Alabama. Yet, during the Revolutionary period (late 1700s) these states were largely uninhabited: the largest slave state was Virginia, where enslaved people toiled on tobacco plantations.
Here again, what is true of transnational institutions can also be considered on the micro level of individual lives. For each of us, we can consider what essential aspects of our character were present throughout our lives – and also reflect upon how and why we have changed as we’ve grown older.
For Valentine’s Day this year, I printed out the first archived emails my (not yet then) wife and I exchanged with each other.
Since I am a bit of a romantic, I’d like to share excerpts of these with my modest reading public. It was evident in rereading these messages that running was important to each of us and that we established a connection pretty early on; still, the idea that these volley of emails would blossom into a marriage now going on five happy years was unknowable to us at that time:
From Megan’s first ever email to me (we’d exchange communication through match.com, but this is the first message she sent to me through email) – 7/31/06
“So you won the Mad City Marathon. That’s fantastic. And good for you taking your friends on a trip. I don’t suppose they came in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and that was ‘understood’? I always loved running through Madison. It has so many great neighborhoods and parks. I just recently moved to an apartment in Chicago, and wish I could say it compared. It has some good places, but the worst part is I still haven’t gotten used to as much traffic, or as many runners (bikers, bladers, walkers, etc.), especially on the lakefront path.”
From my first ever email to Megan – 8/10/06
“Now it is my turn to apologize for not writing back sooner. In truth, I’ve been off in the wilds of Wyoming and purposefully avoiding the internet, cell phones, Ipods, television, newspapers, and most other electronic amenities. This self-imposed hiatus is now ended, and I am rejuvenated and ready to reengage in the world. Your e-mail was a pleasant reminder of why these technological advances can sometimes be welcome.
Where was the wedding you attended? Was it a good friend? I hope it was enjoyable for you. The wedding I attended was for one of my best friends (a teammate from college) and her (now) husband. The two of them are quite experienced at outdoor activities, and they kicked off their honeymoon by taking me and another friend on a backpacking/climbing trip up to the summit of the Grand Teton, the second-highest peak in Wyoming. This adventure involved rope-climbing, boulder scrambling, repelling, the endurance of a snow-thunderstorm, the eating of multiple cliff bars, and astounding views. Perhaps sometime we’ll break you out of your office cubicle and transport you up there. It’s harrowing but exhilarating…
Where is your new apartment at? Somewhere North I’d guess. Have you explored your surroundings much? If you want a partner for subsequent explorations, I’d be honored to fulfill that request…”
Megan to Noah – 8/11/06
“My sister loved Iowa. I thought it was nice too. It reminds me of a smaller version of Madison, which is (as we’ve already discussed) beautiful. I love when you can get to know a city in different ways because more dimensions are added to it.
I always thought working for a magazine like Runner’s World would be amazing, but I think any place that allows for creativity would be the best. (Newsweek is a good magazine, but it seems pretty cut and dry.) I know doing freelance work has its advantages too, but there is something to be said about a steady paycheck. (As mind numbing as being in a cubicle is, that’s the rub.)
So what kind of free time do you have left? When does school start? More importantly, practice?
I have a few things going on this weekend, but would you like to do something next week? There’s a few places I’ve run by that look like they’re worth checking out, but haven’t had the time yet.”
Noah to Megan – 8/12/06
“Where did you grow up, by the way? I can actually claim Chicago roots, though they are firmly suburban (I was
born and raised in Elmhurst). Newsweek and Runner’s World are both magazines I subscribe to (along
with Time and Harper’s). Both annoy me at times (I think Runner’s World has too many weight-loss and nutrition articles and Newsweek dumbs down sophisticated topics at times) but not to the extent that I’d cancel my subscriptions. Maybe you can break into one of those organizations and fix the problems!
The first official day of cross country practice is this monday! I’m excited. This will be my second year as volunteer assistant coach.
Anyway, I’m free next week wednesday and thursday evenings. Perhaps
we could meet up?”
Megan to Noah – 8/13/06
So you grew up in Elmhurst. Does that mean you went to York? I remember hearing in high school about what an amazing team it had, but that’s probably not news to you…
I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about the end of the summer that makes me think of cross country practice. And in the fall, anytime I’m in a park with leaves on the ground I automatically want to go running. I guess that means good luck with practice. How often do you run with the team? Our coach was this really nice old man who had volunteered for years (the guy’s coach was a math teacher) and I always wondered what it’d be like to have a coach go on runs with us. For moral support I suppose. We had a biology teacher that was the nicest woman in the world- the entire school loved her- and we came pretty close to passing a petition around to have her help coach us. It isn’t that we didn’t like our coach, but she ran every day after school and always asked us about practice. I know she came to some of our home meets to volunteer, and I think she eventually helped coach track. Something about that has always stuck with me.
Noah to Megan – 8/14/06
Yep, I went to York. My coach is considered one of the greatest high school cross country coaches in the nation. He coached the Olympic team in 1988, and he certainly exerted a greater influence on me than any other individual excluding my parents. It would be safe to say I would not be coaching and teaching now, if not for him.
Ah, I so empathize with the feeling that fall leaves evokes for you. I think there is something beautiful about watching a high school cross country race: all those multi-colored forms moving gracefully through forests and across fields. I tried today to convey to our XC athletes how much the sport has meant to me…I do get the opportunity to run with them, so hopefully my enthusiasm will spread.
And on the topic of enthusiasm, I would be quite excited to meet you on Wednesday evening. Shall we meet for dinner around 8:00?”
And so, we did indeed meet that Wednesday at 8:00 at Angelina’s Ristourante in Chicago for our first official date. The rest, they say, was history.
Of course, this blog post was inevitably going to come around to running. For the past decade, February 14th has meant two important events: Valentine’s day, and the coming of our first indoor track meet of the season – the annual ‘Little Four’ invite (sometimes actually held on the 14th, but always around that time). And the Little Four, being our season’s first meet, always presents the opportunity for reminding our current team members that their running careers could yet go in many directions; that the potential exists for them to achieve greatness that they might not yet even be able to conceptualize.
It has become an annual tradition for me to use the Saturday after the Little Four meet to tell our distance squad stories of guys who ran unspectacular and inauspicious times at the Little Four, but who ultimately went on to become some of the fastest and most accomplished guys in our program’s history.
We had a young man who just joined our team a few weeks ago named Kaidi Hu. Kaidi is a freshman who did not run cross country, so he is just figuring out how to run long distances. In his first ever track race, Kaidi challenged himself by running up with the top runners in his heat. He paid somewhat for his fast start, but impressed the coaching staff with his competitiveness. He crossed the line in 2:38. I pointed out to Kaidi that we had an athlete on our team who recently graduated who shared his initials: Kevin Huang. And as a freshman in his first ever race, Kevin ran the 800 at the Little Four in 2:39. Less than 9 months later, Kevin was running in the Illinois state cross country meet, as a member of the Varsity top seven. By the time he graduated, he’d run in 5 state meets, been all-state in Cross Country while helping to lead the team to its first ever state championship, and finished his track career with PRs of 1:56.2 and 4:17.7.
Another freshman who ran 2:39 at the Little Four was Arjun Reddy, back in 2009. Arjun’s good friend, Jack Feldman, was also in that race. Jack ran 2:43 (if memory serves me right –and it doesn’t always – he tripped and fell during the race). By late August of the next school year, Jack and Arjun both were among the top 10 finishers at the Sophomore level of the Hornet-Red Devil Invite, helping the Sophomores to an unexpected victory, our first win at any level in that meet since Coach Westphal, Kupres and I had started coaching. Ben Lotsoff, who ran 2:40.3 yesterday, might keep that in mind.
For that matter, consider the all freshman 4*800 of Sean O’Connell, Neil Cumberland, Steven Zaher, and Colin Yandel. These four might consider what our seniors ran at this meet when they were freshman. Back in 2012, we put together a team of Matt McBrien, Josh Feldman, Matt Tobia, and Alex Lambert. Here is a handy chart to put the 2015 Freshman’s times in context:
|2015 Freshman||2012 Freshman||What those 2012 Freshman went on to do:|
|Sean O’Connell-2:16.7||Matt McBrien-2:27.5||Went on to be all-conference as a Sophomore in XC (4th), two time varisty member of state champion team, PRs by end of junior year of 9:35, 4:25, and 2:01|
|Neil Cumberland-2:18.4||Josh Feldman-2:31.5||Went on to be all-conference as a Sophomore in XC (10th), all-state as a senior in XC, varsity member of state champion team, PRs by end of junior year of 9:41, 4:33, 2:10|
|Steven Zaher-2:26.9||Matt Tobia-2:27.5||Went on to be indoor conference champion at the Sophomore level in the 1600; PRs by end of junior year of 4:30 and 2:03|
|Colin Yandel-2:31.5||Alex Lambert- (no reported time – he only ran 4 laps due to official error! – he did run 2:48 a month later at Hinsdale South)||One of four members of the 2014 XC team to make the 1000 mile club (along with Matt, Josh, and Stefan Rosas); PRs by end of junior year of 10:39 and 4:55|
As you can see, both Sean and Neil are significantly ahead of where McBrien, Feldman, and Tobia were as freshman (in fact, their 800 times at the Little Four are the fastest for any freshman that I can find). Colin Yandel’s time was the exact same that Josh ran as a freshman. My earnest hope is that Colin works as hard over his career as Josh did, and is rewarded as spectacularly.
I could go on and on:
- Blake Evertsen ran 2:05.2 for his 4*800 split at the Little Four, while Chris Brenk ran 2:05.4. As a senior, Billy Fayette ran 2:05.0 at this meet. He’d finish the season with PRs of 1:54.2, 4:10.3, and 9:09.
- Andrew Irvine ran 2:13.7 at this meet. Junior Dan Lillard (a sprinter and jumper) ran his first ever 800 in 2:14.5. Last year at this meet, Trent Hyland ran 2:13.5. He would go on to help the team qualify for state in the 4*800 and ran a PR at state prelims of 1:57.6
- As a junior, Emmett Scully ran 2:18.5 at this meet (which was actually his PR at the time). By the next XC season, he was an integral member of the varsity top 7 and helped lead the team to the state title. Something for Neil Cumberland (2:18.5), Sam Fathizadeh (2:19.3) and Michael Chadwell (2:20.1) to remember.
- Junior Zach Sayre joined the sub-5 club for the first time, running 4:55.9. Consider all the runners who would go on to be top 7 the next fall who he ran faster than: Josh Feldman (4:58.6 in 2014, as a junior), Matt McBrien (5:03.3 as a Soph in 2013), Emmett Scully (5:09.8 as a junior, also in 2013), TJ Caveney (5:04.6 as a sophomore in 2012), and Arjun Reddy (5:03 as a junior in 2010).
- Freshman Spencer Martin ran 5:50 this past Friday. His Sophomore teammate, Joe Miscimarra ran a similar time last year of 5:52. By the end of the season, Joe had run 5:07. For that matter, we had a freshman five years ago named Billy Magnesen (on the saved document, he is listed as ‘Magnuson’ which shows how little I knew him at the time) who ran 5:42 at this meet. We all know how Billy’s career turned out!
Of course, everyone develops at different rates. One’s times as a freshman do not guarantee either success or failure. The continuity here is that hard work over time will lead to success more times than it will not. The team seems to have gotten stronger each year, but that trajectory, too, is not inevitable. We must strive to shape history even as it shapes us, humbled by the awareness that external forces will impact us in unforeseen ways, but alive to the possibility that much our destiny is our own to chart.