I'm getting excited about the Hot Chocolate Run on Sunday, but Saturday will be a big day for me as well.
That's because my son Matt and his Aurora Central Catholic teammates will be running in the Illinois Class 2A state cross country meet. The Chargers finished fifth in their sectional last Saturday and will be running at state as a team for the first time since 2006.
If I need any inspiration in my running, I certainly don't have to go very far. Matt is the perfect example of what happens when you work hard. Back in the spring he finished 8th at the conference meet in the frosh/soph 1,600-meter race, and had never broken five minutes for the mile.
His hope at the time was to just be one of the top seven runners on the varsity team. He has run pretty much six days a week since June and went from someone hoping to make the team to the No. 2 runner on the squad. Last Saturday he ran 16:25 for three miles and hopes to break 16 minutes at state. It can happen...the state race is extremely fast (as you could imagine) and with no pressure he can just focus on running fast.
So back to Saturday. His team had finished sixth at regionals the week before, it was one of those days where pretty much nobody on the team felt good. It happens, but we knew that it was going to be close at sectionals.
Matt felt much better than the day before. His coach had told him he expected him to finish somewhere in the top 25-30 (there were over 160 total runners), and I told him if he could do that he would probably qualify for state even if his team didn't, as the top seven individuals on non-qualifying teams also advance.
Still, it might have been one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life! It is so much harder to watch than it is to compete yourself...I learned that a long time ago. The way cross country works is that the top five runners count towards the scoring, and it is added up by place. Lowest score wins.
We all knew that three teams: Yorkville, Glenbard South and Illiana Christian, would advance. They were clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field. That left four teams, Central among them, to fight for the last two team spots.
Everyone had to run one of their best races of the year, and they did! Matt finished 31st overall, so he didn't miss his projection by much. Javy was right behind him and Adrian (the fourth person in the above photo) was a couple of spots behind.
Then, we waited. Unlike other sports, where there is a scoreboard to provide instant feedback, cross country is a mystery until the results are announced. Sure, you can count places and do the math, but everyone usually miscounts or forgets to carry a number, so it's not the most accurate.
For some reason, it took the officials close to an hour to certify the results. I don't envy their job, they have to take the paper results and compare it to video of the finish, and with so much at stake they couldn't afford to screw something up.
First came the girls results. The Chargers didn't advance as a team, but two runners moved on individually, which was exciting for them. One of them, Karina Liz, attends my church with her family and I have known them for a long time. She is only a freshman and has so much potential it is mind-blowing.
Then, the boys. With 21 teams in the sectional, they started with 21st place and went backwards. As we stood as a group awaiting the results, the tension grew with each team. They were quickly to ninth place, then eighth, seventh and sixth.
When they announced that Lemont had finished sixth, we looked around and realized they hadn't said our name yet. What a feeling for everyone! We all exploded, and I don't even remember hearing the rest of the team results.
It was a proud moment for all of us. Both Matts would have qualified individually, but it is much sweeter that they are going as a group. They are a close-knit bunch (most cross country teams are) and the fact they get to experience this together is awesome.
It's so hard to put into words your feelings when one of your kids has success at something...anything for that matter. The biggest thing about this is that I never for a moment expected it. I had hoped that Matt would love running (he does) and beyond that I didn't care whether he ran at the front or the back of the field, or even somewhere in the middle. All I cared about was that he was doing his best and having fun.
Nowhere did I imagine he would be a part of a team that is going to the state meet, and I never thought he would reach the heights he has so far. He has a long way to go, but now has the goal of running in college too, which is something I never thought he would want to do.
To add to the excitement, at the school's fall sports brunch on Sunday, he and Javy shared the Most Improved Runner award. I'm glad they did, they have been great friends and their support of each other has helped them both become the best they can be.
What a weekend this is going to be! So if you see me floating a bit above the ground on Sunday, you know why!