Baby Steps

On Monday night, my daughter, born November 19, 2015, took her first steps.  At first, it was 3-4 steps tentatively from me to my wife.  Within an hour, she was toddling across the room.  It was amazing to watch her confidence in her own abilities expand so rapidly.  Once she realized she could walk, all her prior fears and doubts evaporated.

That process, played out repeatedly through the human life cycle, is how we become fully ourselves.

“The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use” – William James

 

As a coach, I measure my own success based on how well I am able to help the athletes I coach reach beyond their self-imposed limits.  It is, in some ways, an unfair standard to hold myself, as I control only half of the equation.  Nonetheless, nothing makes me happier than to see athletes achieve a mark beyond what they’ve ever managed before, and nothing causes me hurt, frustration, and resolve so much as when an athlete performs far beneath their capabilities.  As it always does, the conference meet provided me with the emotional whirlwind of highs and lows, causes to celebrate in some cases and to search for answers in others.

To our Sophomore squad, I can say unequivocally and with genuine pride, you are the conference champions, and incredibly deserving of the designation.  To set an ambitious goal and then strive for it, together, with every fiber of your being – and then to achieve that goal – there is truly no better feeling.

So here is Brandon Belgrad, on May 15, 2016:

my goal for cross country…that is as a team to win Sophomore Conference.

And here is Alec Hill, one day later:

One other comment I wanna add to my reflection after seeing brandon’s log is that I’m with him on that goal: win sophomore conference. I feel like the conference doesn’t even know about me. I was injured for all of xc and then I ran a 2 mile time at soph conference that I was able to do 2.5 months prior. I’m a much better athlete than some other people may think. And even more important, the conference doesn’t know about our other guys. They don’t know about keegan being a new xc guy. They don’t know about kusak’s ability to boost it. They don’t know about our insane depth of hard-working guys on top of that: we’ve got brandon, khop, fletcher, anshul, bradley, and countless others who could also shock some people next year…So yeah, I am hungry to go out and win that sophomore conference meet. There’s no doubt we have the potential to do it.

You did it, boys!  Your goal was audacious, having finished 4th in Conference as Freshmen.  You got a huge boost when Keegan Caveney decided to join the team.  Keegan finished 6th today, but his influence goes far beyond his running ability.  In the week leading up to the race, he encouraged all his sophomore teammates to reflect on their seasons.  Each of the three days leading up to conference, they were to write one positive note about what they did well and one honest admission of something they can improve upon, and then post it on their on-line training logs.  This instruction did not come from the coaches, but grew organically, from the team up.  If you want to see what a great team dynamic looks like, read the logs of that Sophomore crew.

They were denied their moment of hearing their names called at the awards ceremony (Lyons Township was evacuated as a precautionary measure after reports of a gun on campus), but they deserve recognition.  So here are your Sophomore conference champions:

Alec Hill – 2nd place – Five feet, 85 pounds of pure fury.  A true leader.  The architect of this title.

Matt Kusak – 3rd – Has anyone had a more consistent season?  Matt was 4th at Hornet-Red, 6th at Palatine, and 5th at Naperville Twilight.  Though he doesn’t show it much, few people care as much as Matt does about showing up for his teammates.  He sure did that this year.

Keegan Caveney – 6th – See above.  His decision to join XC was a total game changer for us.  His teammates (and coaches) will forever be grateful.

Kevin Hopkins –10th –  “KHop” – man of the hour.  We needed him to come through today and he did.  Finished one place better than last year.

Brandon Belgrad – 11th at conference.  Put in the work this year and became one of our most improved Sophomores, which was crucial to giving the team the confidence it needed.

Will Ricker – 14th – Last year he was 18th and just missed all-conference.  He missed much of track due to injury, but has been steadily building all season, and saved his best race for last.

Fletcher Spillers – 19th – He had a rocky start to the year due to a health scare, but finished strong.  For sure, ran his best race at Conference.  Has great footspeed and will be a great half miler in track.

Charlie Carter – 21st – Truly committed to running this year.  Had an outstanding season.  Like Fletcher, he has excellent speed and may excel in middle distance.  Really proud of him for going ‘all in’ this year.

Liam Walsh – 22nd – Great race for Liam.  He is quiet and unassuming, but a hard worker.  Did a great job moving up, and has tremendous potential to get even better.

Anshul Sankaran – 30th – I know he is disappointed with his race, but he has learned a lot this season about dealing with adversity, and his contributions to the culture of the Sophomore squad is unquestioned.

Bradley Davis – 31st – No sophomore ran more miles this summer than Bradley.  He leads by example.  He helped make the title happen for the Sophomores.

Jack Gerami – 38th – I love his attitude.  He leads his training group on EVERY run.  Some kids make fun of him for it.  Shame on them.  You want to be great?  Do what Jack does.  And hear this: Jack would be in the top 7 sophomores of any other team in the conference!

Josh Terry – 45th – Have him in class.  Great student.  Confidence is slowly building.  A year of hard work, and he’ll be up with the pack.

Other contributing members to the sophomore squad were Nick Sutton (57th), Matt Ostrowski (58th), Adam Bagnall (64th), Chris Deligiannis (68th), Daniel Yang (82nd), Ryan Park (83rd), Alex Colban (85th), Matt Sayre (86th), and Alan Baek (93rd).  Congrats, Sophs.  Savor it.

Our other highlight for the day came from the JV race, which we won for the first time in my twelve year coaching career, and perhaps for the first time in school history.  Our goal was to go 1-4, and we almost did.  Jan Erick Naess took gold in his final conference meet, with senior teammate Ben Schnieders next through the chute.  Neil Cumberland held on for third to allow us to sweep the podium spots, while Sam Schiavitti fought hard for fifth.  Colin Yandel, wispy in stature but strong in fortitude, tried to push with the leaders and then paid for the fast pace, but held tight to earn the final all-conference spot in 16th.  Perhaps the most surprising and impressive race of the day came from junior Kevin Ellis, who ran inspired and crossed the line in 17:11, fully three minutes faster than he ran at the Hornet-Red Devil Invitational six weeks earlier.  Kevin, a junior, came out for XC this season for the first time, allegedly to stay in shape for baseball.  Kevin works with Coach Kupres and Snee’s training groups, so I don’t get to see him much at practice, but have been told he is a hard work and great role model for the younger athletes.  Thus, we, his coaches, were extremely gratified to see him finish his season on such a high note.

I would be remiss if I did not take a moment in this blog to talk about four seniors who joined the team as freshmen and who ran their final races yesterday.  I always have a special place in my heart for those guys on the team who commit to the same level as the top athletes even though they never get nearly the same level of credit.  These guys, each of whom would be top 7 on many other teams in the state, never got to do that at Hinsdale Central, yet each has contributed more than they can ever know.

Michael Chadwell became an Eagle Scout earlier this season, which tells you plenty about his character.   A nicer guy you will seldom meet.  Michael’s been running over 50 miles a week consistently since his sophomore year.  He had to overcome a bout of pneumonia this past season which was a significant setback, but he always stayed positive, and ended yesterday feeling happy with his race.  We’ll miss him.

Nicky Midlash is one of the all-time most improved athletes we’ve ever had come through our program.  He is also one of the most committed.  For the second year in a row, he joined the ‘1000 mile club’ by running 1000 miles between the first day of summer running and the Conference meet.  This puts him in incredibly select company (Feldman, McBrien, Irvine, Evertsen, and Scully are the only others to achieve that distinction twice).  He missed his entire Sophomore track season due to chest surgery, but came to every single team meeting.  That showed how devoted he is to his teammates.   No one could disagree that Nicky has done everything he can to help our team.

Joe Miscimarra wanted so badly to earn all-conference in the JV race.  He tried his very best, moving up into the top 16 around the two mile mark, but ended 19th, just out of the medals.  Just a week and a half earlier, he had the race of his life at the Naperville Twilight meet, finishing 7th in the open race.  It was the first time in his life that he ever earned a medal, and to be able to hear his name announced at the awards ceremony was a special moment.  Joe and Nick have been inseparable since they joined the team together as freshmen (the duo reminds me a lot of Alex Lambert and Joe Griffin, two guys from the 2014 team who were founding members of the original ‘black group’) and have helped ensure that our team remains focused and committed from top to bottom.

And finally, there is John Bynan.  Last year, the blog I wrote about the conference meet was, also, about the highs and lows of coaching, focusing on two athletes, one (Yuji Cusick, now running and thriving at New York University) who had a tough conclusion to his senior XC season, and the other, JB, who’d risen to the occasion and ran the amazing race he deserved based on how hard he’d trained.  But, ours is not a sport for the faint of heart.   JB needed to overcome a lot of adversity to get to that point.  He faced injuries sophomore and junior year, but through intense cross training managed to get back in shape by conference.  When he got injured again this past summer, his spirits were almost crushed.  It is a long road back, with daunting odds.  JB chose to fight on.  He may be the grittiest athlete on our team.  He finished 20th yesterday, after being 5th as a junior.  His injury hit a little harder this year, a bit later into the season.  He just ran out of time to come back.  To any young runner out there reading this, whether you run for Hinsdale Central or another team, here is what John wrote post-race.  It is worthy of your attention, as he honestly assesses how really HARD running cross country can be, but also why that very difficulty is what makes it worthwhile:

Want to get some thoughts down about running and my career as a cross country runner. Ever since freshman year I believed I would run on a state championship winning team. I believed if I put in the work just like Josh Feldman and Emmett Scully did, I would be like them. Because of this I put in the work. I pushed myself, past my limits repeatedly, and faced the consequences. When it came time to do it again I didn’t cower back and adjust my expectations but I pushed myself just as hard, because I wanted it more than anything. I’ve been thinking about the date November 5th, 2016 for 4 years now. Through good times and mostly bad times, that date, the wild possibility of being able to hoist a 1st Place trophy with my brothers pushed me to continue to fight the good fight. And it got hard. Really really hard at points. This summer was the hardest. I even thought about quitting. I couldn’t handle another injury, another coming up short, hours and hours sitting on a bike, not knowing if it would even matter. But I kept going. Because I wanted to be on that stage more than how much it frustrated me. So today, when my chances of having that first real dream of my life of running top 7 ended, it hurt. But in reflection I would do it all over again. I think it’s important, especially for younger guys to know that I HAVE NO REGRETS WITH THE WAY I TRAINED. I always told myself I would rather be injured than average. I had a goal and went for it. I wanted to be great. I want to conclude by saying I couldn’t have gotten through these frustrations without you all. As much as my goals kept me going through tough times so did my teammates. That’s why I tried to bring some energy to you all over the past 3 weeks. I’ve never liked running, I’ve loved this team. So my cross country career does not end on a stage at Detweiller, but instead on the fields of Lyons Township, but that’s okay because this sport isn’t fair. That’s why I love this sport. It always leaves your wanting more. It will take me time to come to grips with this final blow. What I’ve been chasing for the past 4 years ended today. In that way, a new stage of my life begins tomorrow. But I’ll move on. I’ll set a new goal. And I won’t stop loving and believing in this team. For one last time as a member of the HCXC Cross Country Team, Never Stop Eatin.

It may be strange to see a coach applaud an athlete for saying “I’ve never liked running” but I know exactly what JB means.  I’ve run 95% of days for the last twenty years of my life.  I don’t always enjoy it.  I always feel better after, though.  Last night, too, I thought about how much time and effort I put into cross country, how, now that I have a daughter, the time spent writing blogs and analyzing results means time away from her – how, despite all that effort, the races seldom play out the way I hope they will (and here, I grant, I am far luckier than many, having experienced the ultimate thrill available to Illinois high school XC coaches twice) and leave me wondering if it is worth it.  But, in reading JB’s log, I remember why it is.  What coach with a heart could read his words and not become misty-eyed?

Since she learned to walk, my daughter has fallen countless times.  It does not seem to discourage her.  In life, we will all face many metaphorical falls.  Whether we do so with the innocence of a child or with the hard earned wisdom of an adolescent transitioning to adulthood like John Bynan, what ultimately counts is our ability to get back up.  That is the lesson I hope our varsity and freshman athletes will heed after this meet.  It is an approach to life I hope my daughter always keeps.

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One thought on “Baby Steps

  1. We are so proud of the HCXC program and especially our grandson, John Bynan. We know how hard he worked these past 4 years …never giving up! We are so grateful for the supportive coaches he was blessed to have during these years of triumphs and struggles. He was mentored in not only running but in setting goals, growing in maturity, a belief in himself, self discipline and being part of an awesome group of kids. Those lessons will remain with John throughout his life. He makes us proud as I know he makes the XC program proud. Thank you so much for all you do to help these young men on their journeys through high school. Your gifts are so important to them..please know that.
    Nans & Bops

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