Cross Country Running and Life
By: George Straznitskas

Late November is when many newspapers publish photos of local high school Cross Country runners in their sports' section. Usually these are group shots of kids who have been members of champion teams, or who have made all-league, all-state or all something. I always enjoy looking at these photographs.

Maybe I'm biased, but it just seems to me that pictures of THESE kids always have a different look to them, compared to other team photos I see. Some are short, some are tall. Hair and skin colors vary. However, these kids always appear to me to have a common look to them, in spite of physical differences. They seem to be looking into the camera lens reluctantly, as if each would much rather be grinding out a hilly ten miler than posing.

I think most runners, regardless of age, probably understand these sentiments. For these young people, the photos are destined to become brittle, browned, paper reminders of a great time in their life. A time when, perhaps, an otherwise quiet and somewhat introverted teenager suddenly felt empowered by the act of running competitively. And maybe for a period of 20 minutes, or so, this young warrior threw caution to the wind for the first time, running as hard as possible for as long as possible. Bathed in sweat, bent over and gasping for breath at the finish line, the athlete might have wondered aloud if this is what death must feel like.

In time, this same athlete will surely realize the opposite. Indeed, this is what life feels like. The lessons learned during the harsh cross country season can be applied to the rest of life, whether running or not. To be successful we must prepare, both physically and mentally. We must be willing to lay it on the line, in front of friends, foes and the entire world of spectators. If we fall, we need to get up quickly and get moving again. When our body weakens, we must press on. As our mind is tested by doubt, we must sustain a belief in us. And most of all, we must never, ever give up.

Looking at these young faces pictured in the newspaper, I wonder how each of these runners will utilize these valuable lessons in the years ahead. Will it be in search of Olympic Gold? Maybe these young runners will use there newfound knowledge to pursue excellence in a vocation of business or public service. Let's hope so. However, many will come to realize that many of the answers to life's everyday challenges can be found back on those narrow rocky paths and steep hills they were fortunate enough to have climbed in more innocent times.