Just before Ethan started high school in 1999, he worried about what sport he would play during the Spring season in High School. He had been playing baseball since 2nd grade and loved playing catcher but he was also a strong distance runner and worried about choosing between baseball and track.
We were pleased to discover that our high school had a small cross country team that ran in the Fall--problem solved--he could run cross country in the Fall and play baseball in the Spring. He loved cross country from the first day of pre-season in August, 1999. In our part of the country running cross country meant running through the woods, over hills, through rivers and around rocks in all kinds of inclement weather.
Our school was small and the number of kids interested in running many miles every day after school was even smaller but they were a good bunch and Ethan completely enjoyed his four years of cross country. With our team being so small and seeing the same group of kids from other schools in our conference at every meet we soon got to know the other runners and the kids and parents cheered for everyone. One of the beauties about cross country is that it is an individual sport--there is a team score--but each runner really just tries to do better than they did in the previous race. Our races through the western hills were informal affairs--the kids were usually farm kids who had honed their muscles throwing hay and whose parents faces glowed with pride at their accomplishments. There were no soccer moms--cross country moms are an entirely different demographic.
Because the numbers were small in our conference, often the boys ran at the same time as the girls. Ethan was usually among the top male runners but there was consistently one female runner from the next school to the west of us that ran up with the boys. In fact, she was so fast that some of our male runners would set "beating Anna" as a goal for the season.
When the boys and girls ran separately, the boys on our team could always be heard along the course cheering for Anna. I don't think any of them ever had the nerve to actually talk to her privately--she was so beautiful and so talented that I think our boys felt that cheering for her was the most they could hope for.
Well, they all grew up. Ethan went to college and ran cross country for a while before switching to rugby--he's married now and is an engineer inspecting bridges to make them safe. Anna Willard went off the college too and discovered the joy of running Steeplechase. She excelled at it and tomorrow the cross country star from Telstar High School and the Mountain Valley Conference will run for the United States in the Olympics. Good luck, Anna--Western Maine is still cheering for you.