A Family formed through Miles
The definition of the word sport: some sort of physical activity, either individually or in a team setting where the competitor(s) compete against an opponent team. The word family can be defined as a group of people who share similar likes, come together to care and support one another. If you combine these two words and their definitions, you could easily use them to define cross country.
If you’re not familiar with cross country, it’s a sport that consists of a team; in some cases it can range from seven to ten people to a larger scale ranging from fifty to two hundred athletes. The Apex High School Cross Country (XC) team holds a number of 128 student athletes as of the 2019-2020 season. This includes both the men’s and women’s teams. XC hasn’t always had that many athletes running for Apex High but starting in 1985, Coach Cooper became the head coach who is now starting his 34th year of coaching. A lot of the time cross country isn’t known for being one of the most popular sports at school. XC tends to “scare away” some students, as Abby Clark, a graduating senior on the XC team mentioned in her interview. “So many people always say there’s too much running involved. But even if we run an eight-mile workout or have to run at WakeMed and do hill repeats, I’ve kept running, and there’s so much more to being on this team that the mileage.”
After speaking to a lot of the athletes on the XC team, they said that joining cross country has changed their life. “The first practice I went to my freshman year, I only knew one person, and I will tell you, I was literally terrified,” said Sammy Taylor, a sophomore. As we went on with the interview, I asked her how she met some of her friends during the season and if they talked outside the sport. Along with Sammy, I talked with some of her friends who are also on the team. “I think for the first couple of weeks, I’d meet someone new each day. The funny thing was that as time passed, we had created one big group, and we all became super close and began doing everything together. It went from getting ice cream in downtown Apex, to throwing surprise parties for some of our friends.”
From what just a few of them said, you can already take away that XC offers so much more than helping you get into shape. “I love the Apex XC team, the support amongst teammates help us reach our full potential as runners and as people. As a team, we always work towards common goals together and encourage each other along the way. The last four years of cross country for me has included some of my fondest memories that I always look back on with a smile. I’m so proud to say I am a captain of this team and can be someone who is a part of such an amazing community within the school!” Anya Pennisi, a graduating senior and one of the teams captains summarizes her experience with XC.
For some schools, cross country is a lot different to them and doesn’t mean as much as it does to the Apex High athletes. I got the chance to talk to a student athlete from New York where she told me, “Our XC team is always super split up. The only time we all come together as a team is usually during time trials or at meets. I have certain friends I run with, but during the school day, I have a whole other group of people I surround myself with.” Sadly, even schools in the area like Apex Friendship or Holly Springs don’t receive the compliments or have ever gotten the same reviews that the Apex High’s XC team has.
During the first half of a high school season, cross country runners participate and race in 3k’s. A single 3k is around 1.8 miles on a course that could go from being super flat, to being in the woods with a ton of hills. The second half of the season, runners race on a 5k course, which is 3.1 miles. For the more advanced and bigger teams, they’ll run 8k’s and sometimes even 10k’s which is around 5 to 6.2 miles. Now, if you’re reading this and you don’t usually go on a daily run or if XC and running in general aren’t really your thing, well this still may seem like something you could do today, right? Wrong. Runners take weeks and sometimes even months in advance to prepare their bodies to get themselves in shape for the big day. Then, once race day arrives, you’re not just jogging these races, not even a quick walk; you’re running with almost two hundred other athletes, sometimes around your age or grade, and sometimes just against your gender. Either way, you’re running along side your teammates against other teams and participants, with so many things on your mind, from the little pains in your legs that you have to convince yourself to keep pushing through to making sure you aren’t going too fast in order to make it all the way to the end.
Speaking of injuries, in some cases, an injury can be something like a pulled muscle or a little blister, but enough to have a little pain that may result in the runner sitting out for a practice or two. In a worse case, an injury may in some words “ruin” a runners entire season. I talked to Kendall Brockman, a junior on the team, about her past seasons and how one in particular seemed to be attacked with a roller coaster of recurring injuries. Here is something she said, “Injuries seem to be a part of running, everyone struggles somehow, and some more than others. When you struggle more than your teammates, at least with injuries, you gain a new appreciation for the sport, and every chance you get to race you make the most of. While this may seem to make the season horrible, it teaches you how mentally strong you are and how much you can accomplish!” This is so important. Even though Kendall struggles with so many recurring injuries, it’s something that all runners have to try and fight through. With the encouragement of their teammates and the guidance of their coaches, Kaylee Waltz, a sophomore said, “I don’t think I would’ve kept running if I wasn’t reassured and encouraged by everyone that I’d have another shot at my upcoming seasons.”
Even through the injuries or the pain or the bad scores from a meet, every athlete on the Apex High School XC team will proudly say that they’re a part of this team. From the bonding and long talks on our runs, to the fun pasta parties where we all dress up as old people or witches, to wearing super fun socks and always getting to braid hair at big meets. As being a member of the team myself, cross country has given me what I call my second family. Each runner has their own talents, their own spirit, and each one brings something new each year to the team and into the season. I am a proud member of the Apex Highs XC team. Without having to run mile after mile or having to run up huge hills during meets, having to race the mountains that life brings us, wouldn’t be as easy to overcome without my second family who runs alongside with me. We are a group of individuals who run, not only for ourselves, but for one another, for our peers, for our families, and most importantly, for our Apex High School.