Contributor: The Nerd
Next Monday is the official start of the Nebraska high school cross country season, so for the past three days we've been posting social media threads (now compiled on our Blog page) about how impactful cross country can be for athletes. Yesterday we asked for our followers to share stories about what cross country meant to themselves, their kids or their athletes. Our most engaged followers are the parents, and they stepped up with some great responses. With just a few edits to maintain anonymity when requested, here's a sampling of the comments we received.
I ran cross country my last two years of high school. My teammates became my friends, some of which I still have contact with 30 years later. When you work and sweat together, running distances that most people think are crazy, you form a bond that is so strong. People you wouldn't normally talk to or associate with become friends. When we were out running, it didn't matter your social status, whether you were a nerd or a prep, you respected each other and cheered each other on. Along with the friendships, cross country gave me confidence and strength. I learned to overcome, push myself, and work hard to be better. It also gave me a love of running that has lasted throughout my life. Now I am a mother of 6 and 5 have all ran cross country at some point. One chose football once in high school but the rest continued to run. Cross country has done the same for them that it did for me. I only have one runner left in high school and I can't wait for his season to start!
My 3rd boy loved xc. He just loved to run. Wasn't the fastest, but slowly improved over the 3 years he ran 7,8&9 grade. His team loved him bc he was their biggest fan and cheerleader. Unfortunately his life was cut short, but the camaraderie I saw from his teammates at the viewing was inspiring. The best story was how he talked the coach into bringing the whole team to the farm to remove irrigation pipe from a field so we could harvest it. He was a leader from the back of the pack.
My son Cole was a football kid in junior high and he really loved it. However, he suffered a couple of concussions and we decided it was in his best interest to stop playing. He wanted to keep competing, took up cross country his freshman year and he loves it!! He's had the chance to meet and get to know runners from other schools. Cole has improved his times each year, won his fair share of medals at meets but has fallen short of qualifying for the state meet. He's busted his tail this summer, running some major miles. I really think it's going to pay off when the season starts here next week.
I love cross country for the brotherhood that has formed for my son. The medals the trophies are nice but the friendships that he has have made are the biggest prize of all. The life lessons learned are forever.
Stacia Jones Kennedy
Through cross country our daughter has literally found so many new loves in her life! The love of running! The Love of another family! She strives every day to get better and better and absolutely loves to cheer on her teammates and try to recruit new runners! She now invest all of her money into Brooks, ASICS, long socks with her coaches face on them, and chicken leg shorts. LOL. She is having the time of her life and can’t wait to start the season and compete.
My son started a new school as a 7th grader at Nebraska Christian. He had no friends at the school before he started. He was a nervous wreck. He came home one day and informed us that he was going to go out for XC. He finished every race, usually towards the back of the pack. But what I will never forget is when he crossed the finish line at his very first race, he was hurting and tired (because he was out of shape, lol) and there waiting for him was a senior XC runner from his new school, HUGE smile on his face. He said, "Tug, my man, THAT'S how you do it! GREAT job!" I still tear up every time I tell that story. My son found friends, purpose, and a love for running that year. He is now a senior this year and is beginning his 6th year of XC running. He now finishes towards the middle of the pack instead of the end, he has PR'd several times and finally last year medaled, which was his goal. He encourages the kids who are struggling in the race and often times just holds back to run with them for awhile. He may never be #1 on the course, but he is #1 in my book.
Our daughter started in a new school district for her freshman year, and she wanted to participate in a sport that involved running -- not standing around like in volleyball. Her first season of cross country was unforgettable but not necessarily for the right reasons. In her zeal to run her first race well, she pushed her limits too far and ended up missing the remainder of the season. However, the summer training and the first three weeks of the season had her hooked, and she went to State on the 'fan bus' to cheer on her teammates. Last spring her 4x400 team qualified for State, and she's now training for her second cross country season. She says cross country is the hardest sport out there, but she loves the fact that it really is a race to see who finishes.
Our oldest son Peyton played lots of sports growing up. He also ran 5ks with our family. It was his 8th grade year where he joined XC and found a home - a family and a team that nurtured his love for leadership, mentoring others and passion for running! This was all modeled by a coach who loves kids and loves running! He was our first of now 3 kids who run for fun and run to race. All three will be runners for life!
There are so many mental and physical benefits from cross country, but watching my athletes’ self-confidence grow is one of the greatest for me. My favorite comment that I get almost every year on end of the season evaluations is “I learned I could do things I never thought were possible.”
One of my favorite stories was coaching a young man who had some difficulties at school, was very shy and quiet, and not what you would call a natural runner. He was built more like a football player, but it was tough for him to remember and execute plays, so as a freshman he decided to go out for XC. In September of his freshman season, I ran a marathon, and the next day he came up to me in the hall at school and asked me about it. I later mentioned that to his parents, and they were shocked that he had initiated a conversation with me on his own, and we attributed a lot of that to the fact that he was interested in talking about running!
He bought into xc whole-heartedly, ran nearly every day during the summers, and was able to qualify for state both individually and as a team one year. I will never forget the smile on his face that day at districts. He developed great friendships with his teammates and his parents treated the team to pizza his senior year because they were so appreciative of all the memories and friendships he made through XC.
As he got closer to graduating, his mom and I were discussing his plans for after graduation, and his mom explained how he had found a place to live, a part time job, and a cheap car to make the commute to the area community college, all on his own. She said something similar to, “Every time he approaches these milestones and changes in life, I’m never sure how it will turn out. I shouldn’t worry, though, because he always figures it out just fine.”
While I can’t attribute all of that to cross country, because he is a fantastic, hard-working young man with a great family who raised him well, I’d like to think that xc helped him develop that self-confidence that really grew from his freshman to senior year. Now a few years out of high school, this young man has run two half-marathons and texted me both times to tell me about them. What a great sport we’re involved in!
I'm a 2022 North Platte grad and running impacted me so much. I was one of those kids who’d never gone out for a fall sport. I did marching band but that was pretty much all I did. I had a bunch of friends that convinced me to do XC my senior year and I’m glad they did. Before XC, I couldn’t run a mile without walking or without being so tired I’d cry. Because of my year in XC, I plan to join an intramural running club at college because my coach, his wife and our assistant coach showed me that there is more to running than just all of the miles. I encourage every single person to go out for cross country even if they think they won’t like it. Never underestimate the power of running. It’ll change your life and ruin your life in all of the best ways.
I appreciate the community that is created through high school cross country. Last fall our Fremont girls raced at Pioneers Park on a terribly hot day, and the medical tent was busy. My daughter had finished second in her first race but went back to the the finish line to cheer on her teammates in the second race. When she was at the finish area, she noticed an unattended Omaha Northwest girl laying down in the medical tent. She grabbed a cold towel from the Fremont cooler and gave it to the Northwest athlete - along with a big congratulations for winning the second race. I’m always proud of our daughters, but that was a special moment for me.
My son, started XC in 7th grade as one of the smallest, shortest & not-much-of-a-runner kiddos out there. He had coaches who believed in him & spoke encouraging words over him & his teammates, so, he kept on running. He found out his freshman year, he has vocal chord dysfunction (you feel like you are suffocating at times & can pass out to help your airways open back up), minor seasonal allergies & sports induced asthma. We discovered all this after one of his first meets that was so hot & he finished much slower than he wanted & kept saying he thought he was going to pass out, as he could not breathe. We saw a vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) specialist at UNMC who was floored that he was a long distance runner & encouraged him to keep running as long as he was able to. The perseverance. The teammates. The coaches. The parents. The encouraging of other runners, even when they are your competitors. What a fantastic & unique sport XC is. As my son starts his senior year & his last year of XC, he made it to state in track this last spring & hopes to have a stellar XC season all the while, no longer struggling with his VCD, and his asthma & allergies are minimal. I love that running XC has literally impacted his life in so many positive, amazing ways. Cheers to the upcoming season!
One of my kids is visually impaired and in middle school ran xc. Her coaches were fantastic with her and her first year she had a high school girl as a running guide. Her 8th grade year, the high school xc guys would take turns and run with her. They literally would finish their race and then jog to the starting line to run with her. It was a fun time. We were sad she didn’t want to continue on in high school, but it was a positive experience she (and we) will always have.
I did not even know cross country existed. Then my brother joined the team after a miserable year of football. Best choice ever. The places that running has taken him are amazing. To this day I encourage anyone who is not doing a fall sport to try it. He proved that CC runners are not always born but can be made. He went on to run in college in multiple disciplines. Not only one of the most fun sports to watch as a spectator but it can literally change your life. I have developed a love for CC all because my brother hated football!!! Get off the football bench and go look up the CC coach. He will change your life.
My boy started running XC his 7th grade year and finished close to last in most races. He had few friends and was bullied for not being athletic or a football stud. It was a very rough year. The summer before 8th grade year the HS coach and upperclassmen on the XC team took him and showed him real friendship and lifetime bonds. With that boost in confidence he worked hard and his 8th grade year he came in the top 5. Now he rings in his senior year with those same bonds with friends he considers family. As for not being athletic - he has several state medals xc and track that prove otherwise.
Cross country gave me resilience and perseverance. I’ve played volleyball since I was 4 years old and made the switch to XC my junior year of high school. Everyone, including myself, thought I was crazy. I was a sprinter/jumper with asthma and the farthest I had ever raced was the 400m dash. The first practice I thought that there was no way that I could do it. But I showed up everyday. And I tried my best. And I worked at it with a positive attitude. By the end of my senior year I had placed 16th at State in Class B (my only time running at State). XC has shown me that I can do anything I set my mind to. It has introduced me to the fantastic running community. Because of those two seasons of running, I became a XC coach at the JH level with the hopes to encourage my runners the same way I was encouraged by my coaches.
I am beginning my 9th season as a Cross Country coach. Wow, that is really crazy to type as I never intended to coach, but it has been a blessing to have the opportunities that I have had over the years. It all began in 2014 with the opportunity to start up a XC program at Riverside when the consolidation of Cedar Rapids and Spalding was complete. I was blessed to coach there for four years and then I was granted another opportunity to start the program in Mullen when we relocated in 2018.
When I first started coaching, I was so nervous, constantly questioning if I was doing the right drills and planning proper practices. I often wondered if I had prepared my athletes enough for meets. There was a lot of self doubt. Overall, I was very fortunate to have amazing kids that were willing to work hard each day to improve. My second year of coaching was probably one of my early memories as I had a team of four girls, one of them being my daughter Jacquelyn. Jackie loved volleyball but with a small frame decided that running might suit her better. I was so proud of the improvements that she made. At the 2015 district meet, we knew we had a chance to qualify our first runner for the state meet. To our surprise, two of the girls qualified individually for state and not knowing that we should keep track of all of the placings, we were stunned to hear “Finishing 3rd as a team and qualifying for state is Riverside”. This moment was priceless! The girls were so excited cheering and hugging each other and seeing parents with tears in their eyes was worth its weight in gold. I cannot thank those girls enough for all of the work they put in and the confidence they gave me as a coach.
When my husband was hired as a Superintendent, we moved to Mullen. During the process I was told something that seemed like this was just meant to be. It just so happened that a sophomore girl (Molly Paxton) had just approached the board of education about starting a cross country program at Mullen, and they needed a coach. I was asked to coach and of course, I accepted.
During the summer of 2018, I was a little nervous. First off, moving our family to a new community and now starting up another program in a town where Football and Volleyball are the norm. Not to mention, I put pressure on myself as I strive to prove to everyone that XC is an amazing sport and can help so many kids out that may sit on the VB bench or stand on the sidelines at a FB game. So when my son Trevor (who was a FB student manager for 4 years and his Dad was a football coach for years) said he was going to run XC, I was so excited to have the opportunity to coach him. Throughout Trevor’s elementary years, both him and I did so many road races that it had been a dream of mine to be his coach. During those times, he was always bringing home the 1st place medal when he was in 1st grade (even with a broken arm) up until 6th grade. I knew he had potential.
When moving we knew the tradition, Mullen has always prided themselves on the football team. With several state championships and a hall of fame coach, that is rightfully so. This made both Trevor and Molly want to really prove to themselves and to the community that you can be successful in Cross Country. With 4 state XC medals later and numerous in track distance events (both state champions in the 3200 meter), that they have!! What they have accomplished in the past four years is truly remarkable! Not only Trevor and Molly, but I have had several others work hard to make this program a success. Another 3200 meter state champion, Callie Coble went from volleyball to hip surgery to placing 5th at the 2020 state meet. We had a two time state qualifier in Hayden Jennings who was told he would not be able to run competitively due to a foot injury. Now we have Alex Moore, who came off of a fractured knee cap, running and finishing long distance runs. Finally, we have another Paxton in Peyton who placed 3rd at state as a freshman. The transformation all of these kids made was an absolute blessing. All of this started with some brave changes back in 2018.
This is WHY I coach! This is not MY program, it is OUR program. It is all about the kids and what they can accomplish when they put their doubt aside and work for a goal!
Coaching has taught me so much about myself and helped me gain confidence. The most amazing thing about the sport of Cross Country and running is the self confidence that it gives to each and every runner!! Keep pushing yourself and FINISH!!
And we saved the best for last:
When I was running for O'Neill High School, our races were followed by junior high races. Bloomfield was at two of our meets, and at the Atkinson-West Holt meet one of the Bloomfield 7th grade girls (Lexi) was in last place by a large margin. Our girls squad was doing our cooldown so we joined the 7th grader for the end of the race, encouraging her on because she was working as hard as we had during our varsity race. A few weeks later we visited Bloomfield for their meet, and most of our team - as well as runners from a few other teams - joined Lexi for the last half of her race. It's something that probably happens quite a bit at junior high races, but it made the O'Neill newspaper because one of the Bloomfield parents took a picture of our group and wrote a letter to the paper.
That pack of runners also included Austin Hamm, a Bloomfield runner who won the Class D XC, 1600 and 3200 titles his senior year. Austin was Lexi's older brother. Austin and I met after that first meet in Atkinson when he thanked me for running with Lexi. We had our first date four months later in January 2012; we got married in 2017. We've settled down in Atkinson - the town where we first met - and I'm an assistant coach. Running is still very much a part of our lives - although I'm on the sidelines for a while with Baby #2 on the way.
Originally written for and posted at www.preprunningnerd.com by Jay Slagle. Did you love reading about Nebraska high school running? Visit www.preprunningnerd.com for rankings, results, photos, long-form articles, frequent updates on our blog page, and a bunch of other cool stuff that only running nerds would think to do. If you want to see meet photos or just need to kill a few hours on social media, follow @PrepRunningNerd on Twitter and Instagram, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/preprunningnerd.