In the spring of 2020, our small world of cross country running was shattered, just like everyone else’s, as the world shut down due to fears about a novel virus from China. For our team in particular, the timing could hardly have been worse.
We had just reached a peak of achievement when Michael “Buckets” Mireles, a senior on our team, finished 25th in the country at the Nike Cross Country National Championships in Portland, Oregon. While I was cheering him on at the course on that rainy, wet and cold day, our team was cheering him on a thousand miles south at a watch party in the school cafeteria as the race was broadcasted live. His performance energized the whole team to believe they would one day race at Nationals together. As one of Michael’s senior teammates texted me, “We have something special here.”
But with the lockdowns, that momentum seemed for nothing. Sure, we held Zoom meetings daily to try to connect with our team in small groups — but we didn’t hold practice for almost three months. Our student-athletes lost motivation, lost confidence and lost hope. The season was pushed back, Nike Cross Country Nationals was canceled, and State and CIF Finals eventually were canceled altogether. We ended up with just two dual meets against local competitors.
Yet through all the craziness of our 2020 season, I can confidently say that this was the best year of my 14 years of coaching. Why? Our program centers around the slogan, “Trust the Process.” The Process consists of three pillars we teach our student-athletes so they will excel in cross country and in the rest of their lives. The three pillars are hard work, selflessness and a belief that anything is possible.
While maintaining public health and school district guidelines, we had some of the best practices we have ever experienced. Day in and day out, the pillar of hard work was on full display. Workout after grueling workout, the runners were hitting and exceeding their goals, and constantly getting better.
Best of all, they worked together to exemplify the pillar of selflessness. Work was done for and with one another, putting aside individual success so the group would succeed.
It wasn’t the season our seniors had hoped to have. Heck, even the times we ran in our two dual meets weren’t exactly what we had planned. But amid so much loss and heartache in the past year, the team never gave up on one another. They followed through on the real values we are trying to teach them.
I’d call that a winning season if there ever was one.
Photo credit, Eishi Kajita.