With school starting here, I am reminded, tangentially, of my first real experiences running. I only ran cross country one year – my senior year. After play football from 5th-grade to 11th, I had enough of injuries, sidelinings, and the politics that tend to come with small town athletic programs. I wanted to stay active, though, and loved the team atmosphere. The comradeship of traveling on a bus, practicing and struggling together, and encouraging each other has always been a big draw for me to sports. I decided, then, that instead of football, where I spent more of my time frustrated than fulfilled, I would run cross country. Now, let me clarify something. I was an offensive lineman in football. I was one of the big guys whose sole job was to get in the way of other big guys to keep them from tackling our faster, smaller guys. Therefore, I was, by far, the biggest guy on most courses. I always made a point of telling a new person the one good running joke I could think of (usually from another team), saying, “You know, if they had weight classes in cross country like they do in wrestling, I’d finish pretty well!”
The summer between 11th and 12th grade, I knew I needed to get some running in before the season began. I lived about 2 miles from school, with most of the trip on gravel roads. I decided it probably made sense to get to the point where I could run to school and come back. The meets were not that far, so I figured that if I could do that, I could race. Not fast, but race.
I finally, after a summer of busting my butt, could do just that. I was able to run to school. So, one afternoon about a week before both football and cross country started practicing, I did. As I rounded the corner to turn around, the football coaches spotted me and waved me over. The gist of the conversation went as follows:
“Ready for the season, Odeen?” (if you’ve ever met football coaches, you know they prefer last names)
*Awkward pause* “Yes, but not football season?”
*Confused look* “What do you mean?”
“I’m doing cross country this year.”
“That’s ridiculous, Odeen! You’re huge! This is your year on the field!”
“Well, Coach, I’ve heard that for a few years now. I’m tired of waiting. I’m running cross country instead.”
“No you’re not.”
“Okay. Watch me practice.” *turned and ran the rest of my course*
In hindsight, that was one of the boldest moves I’ve ever made for myself. I heard their response, decided to ignore it, and I was in a much better place, physically, mentally, and spiritually, during my last year in high school. The coach who did most of the talking eventually came and apologized, which earned him huge respect from at least one kid in school (me).
In running, your last name doesn’t count. Your weight doesn’t count. Your intellect doesn’t count. Your finishing time doesn’t even count. All that matters is that you… (wait for it)…RUN! So, don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t run, regardless of their perceived excuse. If you decided to run, run. Don’t even let the negative voices in your mind keep you from doing what you know is right for you. Back then, I weighed 215 pounds and was last on my team almost every time. But, I was running and I was supported by those who knew what it was like to be a runner. Now, you have that from me, too.