Courage to be a Champion: Reflections on the State Cross Country Meet

This weekend was the Illinois State Cross Country Championships.  As a former high school and college runner I was excited to go see the race and support the new school that I am working at.  I saw many people who I loved and knew, met some new faces, and saw some incredible things – most amazingly a girl running under 16 minutes for 3 miles and another finishing in 43 minutes not giving up even after cramping up completely.

To make a brief confession a lot of times when I go to witness these incredible feats I am both amazed and I can’t lie, a little jealous.  Now that sounds absurd even to me because one, I am a Catholic Christian trying my best to get rid of my pride and ego, and two it has been 9 years since I ran at the state meet myself.  I experienced many highs as an athlete and achieved a few great things that are seldom to many in high school.  But why was I so jealous and what draws me so much to these athletic feats?

I think there are two things.  One is the ability to see the race as one we are constantly running in this life, doing our best to endure and finish it well.  Secondly, is to see people do incredible things with what they have been given.  I’d like to make an analogy now of what I feel God has shown me through this weekend.

The beauty of the sport is the rhythm and spiritual aspects of running the race to the finish as hard as we can.  We train so intensely to purify any thing lacking in our will so that we can give it all we have, we sacrifice, we endure, we ask others to help us.  We actually need others to help us in order to get to where we want to be.  We put together workouts over and over until we are able to create something beautiful and flawless.  We keep saying in our heads, “I could have done better, I could have run faster if only this, or that…next time”.  The scary thing about the State meet is that for many, there will never be a next time.  We don’t want to live in fear but to understand this very moment we are summoned to do something extraordinary.  We might not be as gifted and that might not even be our gift, but we are all in the race.  What makes the State meet so exciting is to see the culmination of someone on a journey leading the way for the rest who come after them.  Christ himself lights our path pulling us back to our finish line.  We can’t look back, because that slows us down, we can’t look down because then we can’t see the finish, we must look up.  I’ve only seen the kick down finish in a pack a few times but it truly is what makes the sport so exciting.  The last lap of the mile, the last 800 meters of the cross country meet a pack is all together chasing after the one who is leading.  They need each other because with out one another they wouldn’t be moving as fast.  They push each other to their limits carrying one another along.  The leader is in sight and one breaks away from the pack trying to catch the leader yet all the while leading the others because he is giving his very best which brings them along.  The leader starts to slow as the challenger approaches…is he giving up?  Did he give too much to try to pull away?  Or is he the leader that will guide his fellow brother to the finish – their ultimate destiny?  The challenger inches closer and closer as the finish line gets nearer, only a few more yards and he is a couple back and the leader is about to finish.  He pushes down deep for the final strides as he leans forward…and takes the title, or did they tie only the camera can tell.  After regaining their breath and body the two men hug it out so impressed by one another.  The challenger turns to the leader and says,”I could’t have done it with out you…thank you for your courage”.  He runs a time he never could have if the leader was not out there pushing him to his limits.

This is the weird world of Christianity, this is the weird world of running, this is the weird world sports, and the weird paradox of the life on earth we are given but intended for a finish line far beyond our grasp.  Are we willing to endure, to commit, to follow the leader to see what we too can achieve?  Or will we stay in the pack never challenging ourselves to see the greatness we were made for?  We are made for glory let us not pursue anything less.

2005 IHSA Cross Country championships – watch at 7:55