The Woodberry Harrier 2021: Volume 3

The Rest of the Story

I can’t even write this line without hearing Paul Harvey’s distinctive voice coming from the clock radio in my grandmother’s kitchen, and I remember those slightly melodramatic tales as being worth listening to. The story behind the story is so often the one worth telling.

I found myself remembering that as I prepared for our banquet. Looking at the impressive PRs which were logged at the end of the season, one is tempted to think they tell the whole story: a runner works hard, gets tougher and faster, defies expectations, and runs the best race of his life in the big meet—or something like that.  But that’s more a fantasy than a story. The real story is always messier and way more interesting and inspiring.

You see Ben Hulsey’s 18:02 and think you see, maybe, just the result of a successful taper without knowing that he was sick with flu for two weeks in the height of the season.

You see Sebastian’s 19:22 and think, maybe, that was an off day for him instead of a heroic comeback after missing most of the season while the doctors tried to figure out why he’d collapsed at the FUMA meet back in September. He’d started again almost from scratch two weeks before.

You might see that Taylor and Henry finished together for big PRs and guess that they’d helped each other do that, but you wouldn’t know that Taylor had to start his season late because he was in quarantine abroad or that he’d been hit by a bicycle and suffered mouth fractures in the middle of the season and had to sit out for two weeks.

You might notice that Lewis didn’t run and assume he was injured or sick without knowing that he decided to give his race number to Lawrence because he thought Lawrence stood a better chance of scoring for us.

You might see Ferenc’s blistering 15:18 first-place finish and wonder at the miracle our training program produced overnight, but you’d miss that he’s been training for years under top coaches in Hungary and that the best we could do for him was to be hospitable and try to stay out of his way.

You might know that Winston couldn’t race the championship meets because of the age-eligibility rule, but what I want you to know is how hard he trained and raced all season to help pull the others to times they wouldn’t have imagined they could run a year ago. (Early on Pen said, “I need Winston to do this.”)  You’d have had to be at the Barbee early every day this season to know that Winston mixed the Gatorade and set it out before the others arrived, that in every way he was living up to what he said to me at camp: “I can’t race the big meets, but I just want to help the others all I can.” 

Folks will look at the State Meet results and see Pen’s finish and wonder why the guy who was All-Prep a week before was finishing in 5th place for us, and they will mark it off as the result of misguided race strategy or loss of focus or some such, and they may never know that he came through the 3-mile mark flying into the last stretch on pace to finish in the 16s–the race of a lifetime–until he collapsed thirty meters from the finish and then again after he got up and staggered across the line to score.

But the big story of the team itself is also invisible. People tend (for perfectly obvious reasons) to see a season as being about a State Meet ranking, a set of times, but those things are just what makes it dramatic and fun. They are no more the point of it all than a GPA is the point of learning. Each of these stories I mentioned above was possible only within the shared space these guys co-created of mutual care and challenge, grit and commitment, joy and humor. They maintained for each other a capacity for what Richard Rohr calls “aliveness”:

Aliveness comes down to one thing—consenting to rise, to be dented, impressed, pressed in upon, to rejoin, to open, to ponder, to be where we are in this moment and see what happens, allowing the breath of not knowing to be taken, wanting to see what is there and what is not there. Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us.

This is what a good season is about, and without it, even a championship season is hollow. That is “the rest of the story.”  But here I’ll give the final word to the captains:

The damp air on one of the first cool mornings of the year hung heavy as the team loaded the bus to Moormont. Everyone ran, even those whose injuries might have stopped them. Relentless panting filled the air and beads of sweat ran down our faces at the top, but we enjoyed the view from the summit and the satisfaction of doing something so hard.

The following week, our workouts were finally sweatless as we felt the first cold of the coming winter. At Preps we had to fight through gusts of cold wind and attacks on our sinuses from the dry air. But despite the conditions (and a miserable course layout), the team reacted with grit, and we were proud at the end of the day.

The weather improved a little bit just in time for the State Meet at Pole Green Park in Richmond. We were nervous as we warmed up, knowing that every bit of work that we had done was now going to be put to the test. But it was a test we passed even better than we had at Preps.

While my own final race wasn’t what I’d hoped it would be, I was so proud that the team held their own and got so many personal records and the satisfaction of going out with a bang. I will always cherish the team’s incredible empathy while they waited for (and worried about) me in the hospital parking lot for what I remember as only a few minutes but what was actually hours. I wish there was a way for me to repay their support.

It’s always melancholy to end the season, but now, after three years, it is especially so. They say you never know how much something means to you until it goes away, but I don’t think that is always true. I think I knew all along how much cross country meant (and will continue to mean) to me. The goodbye may have been harder this time, but I knew it was coming. I hope the team next year keeps the same level of camaraderie that we did this year. 

Every day when I walked out of that locker room on the bottom floor of the Barbee, I read “Unity, Integrity, Purpose” written on an oversized post-it note plastered to the door. Those were the three values we chose at Camp Maxwelton in August to reflect on all season, and while they were important to me this season, they are still values I hope to remember every day going forward.

— Pen Oldham ‘ 22

The weeks leading up to Preps were fitting preparation for the meet. Starting with Moormont, a test of fitness and grit, the team was reminded of what matters most. Finishing that hardest workout of all was the first of many lasts of the season. When we got to the top we were met with a panoramic view of Madison and Culpeper counties against the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Everyone was relieved, but also deeply sad that it was over. For some of us, it was the last Moormont we’d ever have, and for others, it was a reminder of why they did such a hard thing. It wasn’t just for the view at the top, it was for those before us and those who will come after. Our participation in Moormont was a link in the 26-year chain of tradition.  It isn’t just another hard workout; it is a tool for discovering something on that mountain that we didn’t bring to it. The beauty is that each of those things is unique to the hundreds of guys that sprinted that mountain. But I think everyone leaves that mountain with both a newfound humility and a newfound confidence that we will carry to the end of the season and down through the years.

A week later,  we boarded the bus on Friday and headed to Richmond for Preps, which we finished with no regrets. After the race on that bad course, we stood in the cold wind smiling about what we had done together. Having suffered so many calamities over the season, we had every excuse to run just an OK race, but we ran an outstanding one.

Looking forward to the state meet, the team felt primed again. The seniors we were getting ready for our last race ever.  We all understand the level of fulfillment that comes with racing with intensity. There is no single word to describe it, but it is electrifying and it is what makes you push through the blood, sweat, and tears to surprise yourself and please your teammates.

And at States, we did that one more time.

— Sebastian Gibb ‘22

Here are the results of the championship meets:

Prep League Championships
Collegiate’s Goochland Campus
5 November 2021
3rd out of 6 teams
RunnerPlace out of 79 runnersTimeComments
Kovacs1st15:37a 1-sec. PR, All Prep Honors
Oldham6th17:23All Prep Honors
Hulsey17th18:36a 6-sec. PR
Myers26th19:14a 49-sec. PR!!!
Harrell37th19:51a 9-sec. PR
Rand50th20:28a 10-sec. PR
 Place out of 72  
Zanone4th19:00a 55-sec. PR!!!
VISAA Championships
Pole Green Park, Mechanicsville, VA (upper course)
13 November 2021
8th out of 18 teams
RunnerPlace out of 181 runnersTimeComments
Kovacs1st15:18a 19-sec. PR, All-State Honors
Hulsey35th18:02a 34-sec. PR
Zanone54th18:25a 35-sec. PR!!
Myers56th18:25a 49-sec. PR!!
Oldham79th19:08got up and finished after collapsing!!!!!!!
Tankard82nd19:15a 24-sec. PR
Dupuy93rd19:31a 14-sec. PR
Harrell103rd19:38a 13-sec. PR
Wharton106th19:41a 31-sec. PR!!
Groton139th20:36a 21-sec. PR

Post Script: 

The Friday after Thanksgiving, we journeyed to Charlotte, NC, where Ferenc took 9th in Footlocker Regionals with a blistering 15:07.  Next week we will journey to San Diego, CA, for Nationals.  Wish him luck!

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