By Christopher Cudworth
Here in the Chicago area the Jackie Robinson West Little League team inspired the city with its victory in the US championships and took second place overall in the Little League World Series. The performance of those middle-school aged kids and their personalities was truly inspiring.
But you don’t have to win the national championships to give inspiration to others.
Yesterday evening I rode over to Rotolo Middle School here in Batavia, Illinois to watch my backdoor neighbor Beau Cunningham compete in his first cross country meet of the year. He’s now in 8th grade, but everyone who knows him jokes that he’s 13 going on 30. He’s a fun-loving kid with a serious mind.
I’ve known him since he was born, have babysat for him on a number of occasions and watched him grow his lawn-mowing business into an actual enterprise with nearly a dozen customers and a nice shiny riding mower. Frankly we were glad he finally traded in the smoke-blowing Montgomery Ward monster that sounded like a military vehicle on some occasions.
For a thirteen year old kid, Beau is very much his own man. That is not to say he is not subject to the same vagaries as other 13 year old young men. He’d be the first one to tell me that no one is perfect. We talk at times about life and work and play and always he’s up for a chuckle about the foibles of being human.
And to that end, we’ve shared quite a few conversations about what it’s like to be a runner. He’s following in the footsteps of his older brother Alec who just graduated from high school and is headed to DePaul. The Batavia cross country team made it downstate last year for the first time in its history. No small feat in the competitive Chicago region.
Beau has been running for a couple years with the Accelerators Running Club, a local organization that gets kids involved in running. The coach has a great attitude about involvement and is encouraging without being pushy.
Called to run again
In fact Beau is the one that encouraged me to come run at a summer cross country meet a few years back. I had not raced in several years and it felt great to race on the grass in a park where I’d done training years ago. I finished three miles in exactly 21:00 and the spark to compete again was re-lit. That day I had wound up running the last mile with a young woman that had passed me in the first mile. When I caught up I told her, “Run with me, then kick it in at the end.” She did just that, sprinting the last 200 meters. That inspired me too.
So it was fun to cycle over to the middle school and watch the boys and girls race a two mile course. The open fields of the middle school are perfect for parents to see their kids in action. The well-designed course has some short climbs on it to make things interesting.
The race is on
When the girls race commenced two young women took it out fast. The runner from Yorkville has a quick stride and took the lead. She was followed in the first mile by Megan Ronzone, whose smooth stride belies her age. She’s an 8th grader but runs with the maturity and form of a much older runner.
For the first 1.5 miles the Yorkville girl held the lead by 10 yards. Somewhere in the Back 40, out of sight from the crowd, Megan made her move and strode home for the victory.
The Yorkville girl finished strong, just 30 yards back. She walked with eyes gleaming and furiously engaged in a review of her race.
The glint of competition was still sparking off her sweat brow and her breathing wheezed a bit in the humidity. She was the picture of
determination. Every man and woman who ever competed in a race could draw lessons from the look on her face.
Megan cooled down and met back up with her mother Liz, who chuckled that she was just about as sweaty as her
daughter from traipsing around to cheer her on. The two paused for a picture in the late summer sunshine. One could only imagine how many more photos there will be of the triumphant daughter with obvious talent and the mother who clearly appreciates the opportunity for her daughter to shine.
But it’s not just the “winners” at a middle school cross country meet that count. Every child out there running got equal cheers it seemed. The importance of such physical activity is so clear these days. There is triumph in every footstep.
My friend Beau did well in his race, which featured a brisk early gallop down the starting hill. The race centrifuged quite quickly and it was up to every kid to make up his mind on his own how fast to go.
Some bounded up the short hill near the center of the course with a burst of determination only a middle school kid could muster.
These programs have pumped new athletes into the high school program where the freshman class of cross country runners is bigger than ever. There is perhaps no purer sport on the face of the planet, and its participants often achieve good grades because the discipline involved in running is effectively transferred to the classroom. Persistence. Perseverance. Creativity. All those traits help you excel in running. They also help you study and learn.
Plus there’s no more loneliness of the long distance runner to worry about. Kids who run are no longer the outcasts or the skinny geeks or nerds. They are runners, plain and simple. There’s much to admire about that, and be inspired.
Note: A reader of this blog Nancy Mansfield pointed out the following: “Hi Chris Just FYI~the RMS cross country team went to state the last two years. Erika was on both teams. Last year was the first time that both the girls and boys teams placed 2nd at state.