My daughter decided to run cross country this year. As a freshman, she had the good fortune of making the varsity team and has spent the past four months running three to six miles a day and, strangely, loving it.
I think it is fair to say running does not come naturally to her. Bailey does not have the classic runner’s build and, meeting her, one’s first impression would be to put her in the pep squad section. Perky and animated, she is a girl through and through.
What she does have, what she has always had, is a tough will. It was her will that pulled her ahead of some tight competition for the final slot on the team of seven, and that same will that drove her through what turned out to be a long season. As a parent I was proud. Bailey was just plain giddy.
The team was led by some truly exceptional runners and guided by coaches who recognize the value in building community among the team. She was extremely lucky. The season went well for her and even more so for her team. She grittily improved her times, and the team managed to qualify for CIF prelims and then move on.
My wife went with Bailey to Mount San Antonio College for the CIF finals. I was at a soccer game for my other daughter, Camryn, when I got the call. The team, running out of their minds, qualified for the state finals.
A trip to the State Championship Meet meant a trek up to Fresno on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Coupled with moving into a new home and ballet performances scheduled for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the prospect of a trip to Fresno was daunting. But we weren’t going to miss it.
We packed up and followed the school van in our own car emblazoned with window paint declaring our destination and the team’s accomplishment. The school van’s windows were covered as well, and folks along the way honked and gave thumbs-up as we traveled through the San Joaquin Valley.
We arrived at the venue just before dusk, and the scope of the event became quickly apparent. More than 1,600 runners from across the state converge on Woodland Park in Clovis every year. The scene is chaotic.
The team jogged the three-mile course and then stood in long lines for the obligatory patches, T-shirts and paraphernalia. Then they were off to a dinner of pasta in Old Town Clovis, check-in at the hotel and off to bed.
Saturday morning was perfect for running. It was cool but not cold. The sun was shining and the skies were clear. Twenty-three teams ran in Bailey’s division, 181 runners. The gun sounded at 8:45, and 20 minutes later the State Championship Meet was history.
The team placed 15th in their division, not a bad showing but not as good as the team and coaches had hoped. But there was no sense of loss after the race. The season was, by all accounts, a victory.
I’m not sure Bailey can truly appreciate what it means to participate at that level in high school competition. As a freshman in her first season of sport, she has yet to experience the more typical disappointment of falling short of qualifying for CIF or certainly falling short of finals and state-level competition. But that will come, as will perspective and appreciation for just how significant this season was for her and her team. For now she’s just eager for the promised letterman’s jacket.
Later Saturday night, I am watching this child with 15 other dancers in Waltz of the Flowers. The gritty, determined, willful grimace of the morning has been replaced. She is smiling, floating gracefully across the stage, lost in joy-filled haze.
I stare on in wonder, shake my head and smile. She is definitely her mother’s child.