The year was 1995. I was in the 10th grade at Batesville High School in southeastern Indiana, home of the mighty Bulldogs. Our cross country team was pretty solid, despite being largely made up of sophomores and freshmen. In addition to our team goals, a main individual goal that year was to earn all-conference honors (top 10) at the EIAC conference meet. Based on the competition, this seemed to be a challenging yet realistic goal. Thinking through each school in the conference, I counted 15 or so guys who would contend. As you may recall, there’s a big difference between sophomores and seniors in high school, and I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated by some of the competition. These were largely upperclassmen who drove, shaved, and stood above my 10th grade 5’6 stature, in addition to beating me in every race. I would be happy to out-lean a fellow sophomore for the 9th or 10th spot, just get me in the top 10!
cross country is a colorful sport
The day of the race arrived, held at Greensburg High School. I’d run a previous best (5k) of 17:45 on the same course earlier in the season, but this did little to calm my nerves. The gun went off and I got out quickly before settling in with the top 12 or so. More than once I counted the guys ahead of me, focused on my objective of a top 10 finish. At around the halfway point there were two guys out in front, followed by a big group of us strung out in a line. I counted once more and realized I was in 11th, with the 10th place guy a mere stride or two ahead of me. “Man, this is gonna suck” I thought. Despite having a good kick, I really didn’t want it to come down to that for the final spot. Then a light bulb went off… I looked at the line of colored jerseys strung out ahead of me and thought “aim higher, dude! You can take these guys!” I stopped focusing on 10th and decided to just go for it, picking colored jerseys off one by one. I ran the last mile like I’d stolen something, knowing the pack was in pursuit. I kicked it in with everything I had, holding off three guys by less than 10 seconds to finish 4th in 16:59, much higher and faster than I had previously allowed myself to believe.
Not every race has gone according to script since then, but the lesson I learned that day has always stuck with me... aim high! You just may surprise yourself.