Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cross Country Classics

I will preach to anyone who will listen about how great the girls’ cross country program at my kids’ school is, and I like to think I’ve influenced a couple people to have their daughters join the program, as well. My older daughters are in their junior and senior year, and the program has had a huge impact on their high school experience. Ironically, this is the third year for my junior and only the second year for my senior. Prior to my junior daughter’s freshman year, I enrolled her in the summer running program through the high school, which is generally the precursor to the actual cross country program. She struggled that summer, not really enjoying much of it; friends who had daughters already in the program encouraged me to tell her to hang in there. Thank goodness she did; I can honestly say it has transformed her high school experience. Last summer, my then junior-to-be (now a senior) got in on the action, so now for better or worse (depending on the day), they are both in the program- I say better.

A neighbor told me recently that she required each of her four children, all of whom have gone on to play on college sports teams and/or state championship high school sports teams, to run cross country in middle school so that they understood the definition of “hard work.” She’s not kidding. The middle school program gave us a taste of what being on the cross country team involved, but high school took it to a whole new level. Those girls work hard. If they’re not going to Blackwell Forest Preserve to run up and down the hills, they’re doing weight training, long runs, speed work or other equally unappealing sounding activities. And yet, I can honestly say I have never heard either of my daughters complain about going to practice, maybe because they’re amongst their friends, or they see their hard work pay off at their meets. When I trained for the marathon last summer, people used to comment about how that must have been inspirational to my daughters. The truth is actually the opposite.

I have to say that the girls know how to make running or being part of a team or whatever they do FUN! They do secret spirit gifts before each meet, writing letters and getting small gifts for a teammate, keeping their identity secret. They have a campout before their first meet, complete with costumes and a scavenger hunt. They host pasta dinners before some of the meets. They design t-shirts for the summer running program and the regular season. The wondrous thing about it all is that they do it themselves! After years of leading Brownie troops and school activities, I was startled to realize that they no longer needed their mommies to help them. The activity that really stands out for me is their annual “Bagel Run”. Two years ago, when my now junior (then freshman) did the Bagel Run, I remember driving her a great distance west to a remote spot on the Prairie Path early one Saturday morning. I can’t remember her distance, but there were three such groups (this year at distances of 7 miles, 8 ½ and 9 ½ miles), all of which ran toward Wheaton on the Prairie Path, concluding with their cheering parents greeting them at the finish. I remember feeling strangely emotional as the girls finished, many having just completed the longest runs of their lives. After everyone finished, they all celebrated with a big breakfast at a nearby teammate’s house. On that Saturday morning, the Prairie Path was crowded with our girls, as well as marathon training groups and people just out for a run on a Saturday morning. The thing that struck me is that pretty much anyone who isn’t physically disabled can get out there and run- it’s just that some people do it and some don’t. These girls finished those distances as a result of hard work. It literally inspired me to start running, ultimately signing up for the marathon last year.

One of the many traditions the girls’ cross country team has is that each year the juniors make a playlist, burned onto a cd and distributed to each girl on the team. Being girls and naturally inclined toward craftiness, the cds are also decorated and bedazzled. Some of the songs are related to running while others are more generally inspirational or just fun. I love getting my hands on the cd because it’s fun to hear what they’ve chosen during a given year. Last year’s cd is especially close to my heart as the songs immediately put me on the lakefront doing my mid-week runs after work as part of my marathon training. I decided to take the best of the last three years’ cds and share them because I think it’s yet another GREAT tradition that the team keeps alive from year to year. As testament to the strength of the program, I was amused and touched to see many parents of last year’s seniors at our first invitational this year, even though their own daughters are now off at college. It’s hard to let go!

Without crying on my laptop and making a scene on the train, I’ll get to the business of my favorite songs from the last couple years. If there is a duplicate here and there from a previous list, the original inspiration was from these cds. Best of luck to anyone who is motivated and inspired to get out there and run!

• Animal (Neon Trees)
• Ants Marching (Dave Matthews Band)
• Dynamite (Taio Cruz)
• Go The Distance (Roger Bart/Disney)
• Magic (B.o.B.)
• Not Afraid (Eminem)
• One Tribe (Black Eyed Peas)
• I Run For Life (Melissa Etheridge)
• Heart of a Champion (Nelly)
• I Run to You (Lady Antebellum)
• Don’t Stop the Beat (Junior Senior)
• Jai Ho! (A.R. Rahman & the Pussycat Dolls)
• Beautiful Day (U2)
• All These Things That I’ve Done (The Killers)
• Superstar (Lupe Fiasco)
• Mama Mia (ABBA)
• Lose Yourself (Eminem)
• I Gotta Feeling (Black Eyed Peas)

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