Practice starts off with a warm-up. Within the team there is a significant difference in ability between the fastest and the slowest, but the warm-up sets a jogging pace so everyone can stay together. Laughs, jokes, and occasional groans about the fast approaching workout are tossed around as sneakers jog out of rhythm down the sidewalk. Though many athletes are aware of the pressure of upcoming races and the desire to place well, the friendship and team spirit is what drives their motivation to start the workout.
The runners on the team often form friendships within the team in the form of running buddies. One particular runner stated, “I often have a hard time finding the motivation to run by myself. When I do run with others I usually hear a lot of crazy stories. I mean what else are you going to do on a six mile run?” The time set aside for preparation allow runners to discover more about each other and empathize with the vigorous training they both go through. Each practice remains about the same workout for each, tailored depending on the mileage they wish to achieve. One thing is for sure, everyone’s hard work and determination is surely woven into their runs.
The coach of the team that keeps the family close is Kelley Cullenberg. She began coaching in the 1980’s and ever since has found the true value of the team. “With cross country the family is formed,” Cullenberg noted as she talked about the things she truly loves about the sport. Beyond the connection that is formed between athletes and coaches, she finds great pride in witnessing the achievement of each individual athlete. To her it is more than just a place or a score; to her it doesn’t matter what the ability or goals are, everyone is happy with the obstacles they have overcome. Cullenberg describes the sport with passion. Truly, cross country has touched her heart in a way that surpasses the scoreboard or the team rank.
Whether it be the coach or the athlete or even the spectator watching on the side, cross country impacts those around it, positively influencing them. Connections between athletes make their running stronger, bringing them closer together. Alumni stay in contact well after their high school years have ended, and a lesson – difficult to learn – is taught throughout every high school team: there’s more to life than numbers and there’s more to numbers than winning. The truth of it is is that there is not a clear answer to the question, ‘Why do you run cross country?” and the answer will remain unclear until someone finds the words to sum up the entirety of the sense of belonging and the success.