Right before the end of my senior year, I had to write a paper in my English class reflecting on my four years of high school. In that paper, I talked about the sometimes hard truth and reality some people face, no matter the subject. I used that paper to describe my struggles to find perfection in my running, as well as my academics.
The fact of the matter is that not everyone is going to end up going to Harvard, and not everyone is going to end up as an Olympic gold medalist.
I started cross country and track just about how every kid does. I grew up playing soccer, since my dad coached, and was lucky enough to play in college at Penn State Worthington. I ended up joining the track team because my brother (and role model) had done so for two years, and I figured it was worth the try.
Eventually, I got good enough that it was worth switching from soccer to cross country in the fall, and eventually giving up basketball in the winter. While it took me a while to fall in love with the sport, I was still able to make the varsity team my first year of cross country, and was the lone freshman sitting in the 7th spot on the team.
Going back to this senior paper of mine, it was important in helping me realize my ideals. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed of going to Notre Dame. My uncle was in the marching band there, and my aunt was a student there as well. Every single Saturday, I watched Notre Dame football. Hell, I even missed my first cross country meet of high school to drive out to watch the Irish pulverize Temple 49-16.
But the reality struck later on in my high school career that I just couldn’t go to Notre Dame. I was a good student, but I wasn’t quite smart enough for the geniuses that roamed their campus.
Similarly with my running, I wanted to be great. Seeing guys online like Ryan Trahan go from a 20-something 5k on JV, to a low 15-minute 5k and a scholarship to Texas A&M gave me tons of optimism that I could be that guy.
Not just good, but great.
But just like my dreams of Notre Dame, I realized I definitely was not D1 material, or even D2 material for that matter. My first 1600m I ran in 7th grade was a 6:34, and I ended my high school career running 4:54 for 5 straight dual meets. I went from a 12:36 3200m runner to a 10:39 PR. I lowered my cross country 5k PR from 23:33 to a 17:56 in four years, despite being injured all summer prior to my senior season.
Despite all this, I still just wasn’t the runner I wanted to be. I had okay times, but they weren’t great. I was finishing well in races, but the only races I was winning were from dual meets.
I came up painfully short at my district championships in track, and failed to qualify for any state meets in cross country. I ended my high school career without having ever won a medal, with a painful 21st place at the PIAA District 2 Championships being the cherry on top (Top 20 Medal).
While I was not the 15-minute 5k runner I had hoped to become, I had slowly realized that I cared more and more about my team. My cross country team was never in consideration for the district title until my senior year, where the team finished 5th at districts.
My freshman year, the track team had not won a dual meet in almost 5 years. By my senior year, we were able to win 3 dual meets in a season, despite having only 5 distance athletes. While I had numerous failures, and could never get fit enough to run a time I thought was good, I was finally surrounded by a team whose results I cared about more than my own results.
This love of the sport that I finally realized I had, thanks to my team, helped me decide that I was going to run in college after all.
During my whole college progress, I ultimately decided to run D3 at the University of Scranton. I had looked at not running in college, and ultimately decided that running would keep my head on straight, keep me healthy, and was what I needed to be happy. I had looked at other colleges in-state such as Moravian, but ultimately decided that Scranton was where I wanted to be.
The same brother who had convinced me to join track in the first place also went to Scranton, and a total of seven members in my family had attended the university. It just felt like the best choice, with so much family supporting me.
Living in NEPA, I was able to meet up with some of the guys on the team over the summer to train, as well as some other local athletes. While it was nice getting my butt kicked by some local athletes — some who run D3 at Marywood, all the way up to D1 schools like Boston College, Temple, and Saint Joseph’s — I really enjoyed running with my future teammates more. Each of them had a vision for the season we had ahead, and it felt great adding another brick to the great mansion of a season we had in mind. Even more, it felt great making new relationships with my future teammates.
Compared to high school, it finally felt like my hard work could come to fruition with other guys who worked just as hard, all for the sake of the team.
Beginning my year, however, I hit a series of obstacles. I spent the night before my first race puking my brains out in my dorm room. While all my teammates were racing, I was in the hospital. With a hip flexor injury and another weekend of being stuck in bed, I really had a terrible freshman cross country season. Before my actual first race of the season and college career, I took enough ibuprofen to kill a hamster in order to get through my hip flexor injury, and ran 22:09 for 6k.
My PR in the 8k of 30:16 came from my very first 8k, where I went out in an idiotic 5:15 and slowly died off. At conferences, I ran absolutely terrible, and was one of the last finishers overall. I had put in the mileage, and put in my time in the weight room, but I truly just had bad luck in trying to stay fit, stay healthy, and perform well in my 3 races.
Now I’m not writing a sob story about my freshman cross country season just to complain and feel sorry for myself. I’m writing it because I truly love this team, and everyone on it, no matter what times I run. While I still am a perfectionist who hopes to hold some school records one day, I am also truly happy no matter the results. Recently at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Meet, our men’s team was able to get 6th out of 32 teams, the highest finish since 1988.
While I wasn’t running in that particular meet, I still woke up at seven and drove two and a half hours down and back to Carlisle just to watch both the men and women run.
I may not be running well yet. I may not be running D1. I may not be a student at Harvard or Notre Dame. But I’m working hard and putting in the miles. Hopefully, I can get fit enough to crush my first season of indoor track.
After that, I’d like to finally utilize my 6’3” frame for the steeplechase. But even if I run terribly, at the end of the day it’s all for the love of the team, and the love of the sport.
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