Watching my son's final two races of his cross-country career, I burst into tears at the end of both runs.
He ran well, and I was darned proud.
For the 3A regional meet on Oct. 20 in Delta, the boys ran at 12:30 p.m., lining up in a gust of wind. They were off. This could be by son Sloan's last meet after five years of running cross-country for Bayfield. He's had a good season this year, but not a great one, hampered by an Achilles tendon he injured this summer at running camp. That is a slow recovery process, and it hadn't really healed until a few weeks earlier. In cross-country, you can run great all season, but nothing matters except the regional meet. The top 15 individual runners in class qualify for state, along with the top four teams of seven runners each.
That's it: the fastest times in one meet. There are no points, no rankings, no playoffs, no RPI scale, just a bunch of skinny kids racing against the clock.
Sloan is a talented runner, but after a tough season, I honestly didn't know how he would do. We knew our boys had a chance of making it as a team, but only if they all ran their best times of the season.
I have to admit, cross country is a bit challenging as far as spectator sports go. The end and finish lines are usually at the same spot, so you can watch them take off and come back. Confluence Park in Delta has a route around a lake, and I wanted to get some good pictures of our Bayfield and Ignacio runners, so I moved along as fast as I could to got over to the lake. Unconsciously, I counted the runners as they came by. Sloan was in the second pack of runners, probably in about 20th place. But he was the lead runner for Bayfield, and he looked good. He was breathing easy and moving smoothly. I smiled and hollered for him, missing my camera shots. That's the hard part about trying to cheer on your kid and get his picture for the paper.
I hustled back to the finish line, but the top runners were just crossing the line. I saw my kid in his white jersey cross the line. He was 12th.
He had qualified for the 3A state race.
While running is a relatively inexpensive sport, there is still a lot that goes into it. A new pair of running shoots and socks every six months. Protein shakes. Gym workouts. Running camp. Workout gear for cold and wind. Training after school in the rain and wind and sleet. Team dinners and coaches' talks. Departing for meets at 4:30 or 5 a.m. to drive a couple hundred miles to run for 20 minutes.
For parents of any athlete, sports is a battle of coordination. Keeping track of that uniform and shoes can be a huge challenge. The athletes battle runners cough and shin splints, and they try anything to heal those aches and pains. It's a three-month battle while hoping that your kid makes it through the season unscathed.
Then in 17:38, his regional race was over. It was shorter than most football quarters and baseball innings.
He made it.
I cried a good long time, then wandered over to the sea of skinny boys and found my kid.
"Twelfth, Mom," he said, giving me a big hug. "I made 12th."
It wasn't my work that went into those seasons, it was his. I just tried to support him the best I could. I know sometimes I came up short, and I know he still loved his old mom anyway, particularly when I picked him up from meets and we would find a good burger or pizza joint on the drive back home. He's in the enviable position of being able to eat anything he wants to.
On Saturday, my son ran his final cross-country race of high school. He ran his fastest time for that course, which is a tough one. The finish line is a scene of brutal competition. Runners are vomiting, heaving, spitting, collapsing, and some are crying after they've given everything they had. They have run nine races in two months, including hundreds of miles in practice. I marvel that this tall kid has grown from a jaundiced baby to a tubby little kid who got stuck in drawers and chairs ... to a state competitor.
Sloan, please forgive me this last instance of sentimentality as your cross country running career comes to an end.
Your family and I are so proud of you. You'll always be able to say you competed at Colorado's state cross-country meet. No one can ever take that away from you.
Thank you to the runners, Coach Walton and Coach Kaufmann, and the other parents and supporters who helped encourage him this year. Even in an indvidual sport such as running, it still takes a team to get across the finish line, and I'm proud of all of the Ignacio and Bayfield runners who worked so hard this season. We have some talented freshman and sophomores who will make their marks in the future.
Thanks for reading.