It is a cold, wet October morning in Slippery Rock, PA. The school bus carrying 50 sleeping high schoolers pulls into a gravel parking lot, joining a crowd of buses and vans already lining the edge of a vast grassy field. A never-ending white line is painted on the short-clipped grass marking a trail. It follows the outside of the expanse, along the parking lot, beside the road, up and down the hills and valleys, and through small patches of trees and brush at the far end of the field. Football goalposts crown the crest of a hill in the distance and white wooden posts guard the insides of the curves of the white line. As the bus driver turns off the motor, the girls begin to stir and sit upright in their seats. They wipe the beads of condensation from the inside of the windows and look outside, absorbing this beautiful scenery. A few begin to talk to the person sitting next to them. Others stretch and let out loud groans. This is the morning they have been preparing for since the summer months: this morning, this very group of girls will try to prove themselves as the highest-ranking, fastest-running cross country team in western Pennsylvania. Soon, this calm field will be overtaken by swarms of coaches, runners, parents, and officials.
As the morning moves on, more and more people gather around the tents that have popped up between areas of the course. After about two hours of preparation, the teams start gathering near the starting line for the first race. First to run are the boys’ junior varsity teams, followed forty minutes later by boys’ varsity. And then it’s my turn.
Coach LeDonne gathers all of the girls on the JV team around him in front of our duck-yellow tent. As he talks, some girls seem distracted and yell cheers to the boys racing nearby. Some are talking to their parents or sitting on the tarp next to the tent putting on their spikes. LeDonne has given many pep talks in his days of coaching, so he knows exactly what to say to get his teams excited and ready to run. As I listen to him, I knot the shoelaces on my new spikes and glance at my friends who will be running with me. I try to seem as excited as I can, given that I will soon be running a big race. I can tell by the looks that my friends shoot back at me that they are thinking “I don’t want to do this, it’s gonna be the worst” and “I can’t wait for this to be over.” But I force myself to think of the positives: “Once this race is over, I won’t have any more big races this season. Plus, I’ll feel really good afterwards. Who knows, maybe this race I’ll finally improve.” But at the same time, I am still thinking all the same negative thoughts as my friends. Even so, I decide that I should push hard this race. Maybe I can finally lower my time.
Even though I work hard, it seems that I can never move up in the pack. I am almost always one of the last on my team to finish. ...