I was sitting on a rock by the water’s edge on an October evening — a calm, dark-grey lake filled my view. It was the most important race of the season and every runner had already crossed the finish line.
I remember thinking I should have trained harder over the summer, then I could have raced faster, and it wouldn’t have hurt so bad — I wouldn’t have let my team down. We were one spot away from qualifying to the State meet. It was my worst race.
An hour before, my coach did something he had never done prior: he pulled me aside and said, “Ellie, today you are one of our most important runners. We need you.”
Man, I wish I could have known that three months ago, I thought.
I didn’t know I mattered, and I did not understand the impact I could have on my team. Before this race, running was just an extra-curricular to get involved and make friends.
I never imagined that when it came to the competition and the glorious feeling of victory, I would have wanted it as much as I do now. That day changed the course of every day after it. I decided I never wanted to feel that weak or insecure about my performance again.
I wanted victory: Something I define as the feeling when I am proud of myself and my team members. I made a goal unlike any other I had ever made before, and it was all mine.
It was a promise that I would never let my team down again — I would be fully committed to improvement.
My official cross-country season was over that day, but in reality it wasn’t. I followed the boys’ team and girls who qualified individually to the end of their season, running with them every day and screaming their names at the state championship.
Practice in December was pitch black and raining by 5:00 p.m. and Christmas Eve still meant 9:00 a.m. practice and a ten-mile run. On the flip side, it did also mean brunch with my team afterwards.
Teammates were equivalent with best friends. In February it snowed, and we grabbed gloves to shovel lane one of the track. Come track season our momentum was unstoppable. We had track workouts for twenty minutes —each lap exactly ninety-five seconds.
We were one unit and each girl was a cog in the machine.
Our steps, our breathing, and the swish of our ponytails in time. Summer was filled to the brim with memories of eighty-degree runs and hikes and beach days.
I was ready to lead my team to make a comeback.
Now, it is the last cross-country conference meet in my high school running career and it is so much different than one year ago. At the start line we high five and tap each other’s toes for good luck.
At the finish line, we have hugs with five girls and I start to cry because instead of thirtieth place, I finished in first place. The same group of girls all year, and there we stood as state qualifiers.
I like to think that everything happens for a reason. The race that ended my season in cross country last year was devastating, but it showed me I have to make a change if I want to succeed. My team and I were not strong enough back then, but we became tougher runners as well as better friends.
Cross country is not a sport you run for fun — sometimes it boils down to just pain. It is a sport where the people are hard workers on the race course and in life.
Now, I feel like I have a new pair of legs — they are about two and a half minutes faster in the 5k. I have a collection of medals. I have confidence in my ability to commit to a goal, but the best part is I am proud and I had the most wonderful people to have shared that victorious feeling with.
I have a new team at the University of Portland, but my definition of victory hasn’t changed.
Eleora Erikson — UNIVERSITY OF PORTLAND / INTERLAKE HIGH SCHOOL
1500 Meter Run: 4:33
One Mile Run: 4:58.64
5,000 Meter Run (XC): 17:50