“Hey, it’s a salty! … Hey, Cinnamon!” I heard Vidhi’s voice singsong as I wove through the masses of parents and young siblings and packs of high school kids warming up. I turned the corner around a brick wall and hopped down an embankment to find her with Lydia, Calina and Caitlin, waiting in line for the bathroom. As Vidhi showed me the team’s latest in a string of injuries–an infected insect bite that swelled her entire foot and turned it black, I looked around for the others. “Where’s everyone else?” I asked. “Sydnie’s at the tent waiting for us to warm up,” they replied glancing at each other. It wasn’t until several minutes later, when Sydnie came to hurry us along for the warmup, that I realized there were only four girls running today.
Back at the tent after warming up Caitlin dug mud out from in between her spikes and the other girls changed their shoes while Vidhi stretched out across the row of camping chairs reciting memorization techniques for chemistry class across to Lydia. They were excited about the homecoming dance that evening, and we chatted about their dresses and their plans, and about how Calina was nervous about running in the varsity race for the first time. Sydnie kept quiet, a dark cloud over her. She was anxious about what we weren’t talking about, that, for one reason or another, half the team wasn’t there. And really, Vidhi was only there to hobble to the starting line and wave them off. But because a team without five runners is ineligible to score, Vidhi’s hobbling would, hopefully, save the day.
LAST WEEK ON NORTH
A full squad minus a vacationing Natalie, sick Caitlin and injured Cheyenne, took to the fields of the McDonough Invitational at Cleveland’s Forest Hills Park, where Calina was all smiles as she ran her first cross-country race ever and Mollee once again worked her tail off from start to finish in the JV race.
In the varsity race, Sydnie went for it, going out in the lead before falling to a commanding second place for most of the race, only to go off course. This error cost her just enough time for third and fourth place to pass her. Despite the setback, she easily had her best performance of the season thus far. While Lydia struggled with a cold, Ashleigh took command for second on the team, earning her first cross country medal ever! Hannah certainly rebounded from her calf-cramp-induced meltdown in Brecksville, but her nerves still got the best of her and she once again underperformed. Nevertheless, there were definitely signs of improvement! Finally, Vidhi was back in race form, but seemed defeated when she was passed on her way up the course’s big hill and found herself in last place.
But the team was hopeful that, with Natalie back and Caitlin well, that all nine uninjured girls could head to one of the fastest courses on the schedule to earn PRs for each of them.
Getting to Run
To run in the varsity race in Strongsville, teams had to field a minimum of five runners. But today only five North girls showed up, and only four of them were ready to run. Nervously, the four healthy runners and a hobbling Vidhi joined the mob of other teams to hear the race instructions. Would the officials notice they didn’t have a full team and bar them from competing?
Luckily, the team lined up next to Chagrin High School, who also wear black uniforms, and nobody seemed to notice that there were only four Lady Rangers on the squad. Per usual, Syd led the other girls in their form drills from the starting line while Coach James hung back with Vidhi. When they huddled up for their team meeting, Coach gave Vidhi a nudge. “Wait for me!” she called with her giant smile, hobbling out onto the field, her cozy warmup pants and jacket in stark contrast to the other girls’ sleek race kits.
At the gun I was shocked to see Syd so far up front; it turns out Coach James had told her to stay with the front of the pack, and she wound up running her first mile far faster than she should have! My heart sank – I knew her cloudy day was going to get cloudier. Maybe it was the stress of not having half her team there, maybe it was just the pressure of wanting to do well at their first meet with good weather and a flat course, but she wound up crashing in the second mile and didn’t do particularly well. But sometimes we all have bad days.
Luckily though, there was a silver lining. This course has always been particularly quick, and the weather was cool and breezy, the first day that really felt like autumn, which led to big personal records for the other three girls.
It was hard to see Syd struggling the way she did. Sure, she went out too fast, but it was deeper than that. From what she sees, local competitors don’t take her team seriously, and when she sees her own teammates not taking the team seriously, it stings. “There’s a North mentality,” she says. She’s long noticed that other schools in more engaged communities, often wealthier communities, have more girls on their cross country teams. She’s wondered herself what it would be like to run for one of those schools.
The Power of Showing Up
There’s the North mentality, and then there’s the Sydnie mentality: show up. One thing we know for sure is that Air-Force-bound Sydnie doesn’t avoid difficulty. When her parents asked her if she’d want to move, she stuck by her school, by her friends and by her team and did everything in her power to make the situation better. She runs every race like she has everything to gain, and she has taken ownership of this team. It pays off: college recruiters, coaches, teachers and most certainly the Air Force recruiters who will enlist her in a few weeks sit up and take notice. Syd is going far because she shows up for herself and others.
And this week four other North girls learned what can happen when you show up. Lydia pushed herself harder than ever. She crushed her PR and ran a 22:05.
Calina took SIX minutes off her time from last week because she listened to Salty’s advice and forced herself to show up and run into discomfort to a 28:58. And the best part? She was still relaxed and smiling at the finish line, which means she can do better yet! If she keeps showing up for herself, Calina has many more PRs ahead.
And Caitlin. Oh, Caitlin! Week after week she has been frustrated by her results, but it doesn’t stop her from showing up. She practices. She listens to her coaches. She watches the more experienced runners. And on this day she showed up for herself by using all that she has learned. She listened to her body and opened up her stride, running a 30:20, within shouting distance of the 30 minute barrier.
Showing Up for Others
Being injured, Vidhi didn’t have to come to the meet. It couldn’t have been easy to get up early to limp onto the bus with the rest of the team. It couldn’t have been convenient to study stretched across a row of camp chairs in the middle of a cacophony of racing activity instead of studying quietly at home. It must have been a big day for her between that and the homecoming dance, barely able to walk on an injured foot. It must have felt weird to hobble over and huddle up at the starting line in her warmups. In fact, even for all their success the team still wasn’t able to score because they didn’t finish five runners, and that must have been disappointing. But Vidhi showed up anyway.
And if I noticed, you’d better believe the coaches took notice. Someone who shows up for others in the face of inconvenience isn’t just showing altruism, she’s showing an integrity that will draw others to her and help propel her to success. She made her way out along the course to cheer the other girls along and stayed to congratulate them on races well run. And people noticed!
What it Takes to Show Up
To be clear, I don’t fault the rest of the team for not coming to the meet, they all had their reasons. That’s not why I wanted to talk about showing up today, this is more personal. Salty and I often marvel that the projects we take on with our work here often reflect our own current state of being. Whether that’s art imitating life or the other way around, I can’t tell you, but I do know that this week I saw something I needed to see in these girls. I haven’t been showing up for myself, and they helped me see how I can change that.
Sometimes, like in Vidhi’s case, the goal and plan can happen naturally: Vidhi doesn’t plan to cheer louder than everyone on her team or to make everyone smile in the toughest situations. Still, even though she probably didn’t make a conscious choice, she wants her team to succeed, so she does everything she can to help them get there even when it isn’t convenient.
It’s easy to hope things will happen that way, that we will naturally show up, but when we aren’t seeing the outcomes we want, it’s important to step back, re-evaluate our goal and think about what it takes to get there. Do you want a big PR? Does that mean a tougher training plan, more ancillary training, higher intensity? Are you willing to do what it takes? Or maybe there’s a job you want. How do you get there? What are the steps you need to take? Are you really taking them, or are you just hoping it will happen for you? Perhaps all you want is to heal from an injury, and the best thing you can do for yourself is kick back with your feet elevated instead of going for a run.
When I say show up, I mean bring your presence to the situation at hand and do what you need to do. Whether it’s something you want or a responsibility you have, get the work done. Show up for yourself, and watch your goals come into sight.
So what is North’s goal? What do they need to do to get there? That’s something they need to figure out as a team. Of course, winning the state championship would be awesome, but it’s probably not attainable this season. But changing that “North mentality” so their school could have a better shot in the future? That’s a great goal, and there are attainable, measurable ways to work toward it. Fielding all nine uninjured runners would be another great goal. Place in the top ten as a team in every meet would be another. These are achievable, measurable, and the North girls certainly have the power to make them happen.
What if they set a goal as a team and each of those girls approached each day with the intention of helping to achieve it? What else would happen? How many PRs would they earn? How much closer would they be to each other? How much would they learn about themselves, about life? How high could they climb?
Before the start of the season, this team had goals. Halfway through it, it’s time to decide: are they going to show up and make them happen? And if they all did, what could they accomplish?
Showing up isn’t just about reaching your goals, it’s about who you become in the process. You have the power to make your life better today … if you show up.
Do you show up when it comes to running? What does showing up mean for you?
We’ll be back next week with our next installment of North.
For past posts in this series, go here.
You can see the full results of the Fleet Feet Strongsville Invite, go here.
***Correction: a previous version of this post said Coach Rob told Sydnie to got out with the leaders, when in fact it was Coach James ***