Community column: Young runners find leadership at finish line
“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’ ” — Kurt Vonnegut
This morning, while many of you are snuggling deeper beneath your comforters or maybe sipping that steaming cup of something, a band of runners will dash into the fields of Great Meadow Park and begin the state cross country championship.
Radford men are on the hunt for their second single A title.
The women’s team will also run today.
Their projected results are not as promising as the guys, but anything can happen in a three-mile footrace.
But this column’s intent is not to speculate on the prospect of success — at least in pure athletic terms.
I’m dedicating this space to thank all of the senior runners who played a role in child-rearing, perhaps even without fully intending or realizing this fact.
Three of our top four likely male finishers will be seniors. Ryan Johnson is a study in patience and calm.
He runs methodically, with quiet purpose, keeping the team highly competitive by finishing in the top 15 at regionals.
Matt Turk looks and acts the harrier-warrior in posture and stride. He fought his way back from illness to race the second half of the schedule.
Don’t let the appearance fool you — Turk can be an amiable, even silly, sort with the right soundtrack. And if today is like many other races this year, Walker Mogen will finish ahead of the pack, gliding across the course, the only evidence of the extreme effort in the rise of color in his face.
He’s the type of runner many can grow to dislike — making a sub-16 minute 5K appear like a jog in the park.
On the women’s team, senior Emma Duncan has truly hit her stride this year, the result of a tenacious work ethic and passion for improvement. If tradition holds, Emma will seek comfort in a heartfelt hug from mom Julie after the finish.
Both of my children have come to know and love this sport through the support and leadership of this crew.
There is something expansive about the bond formed on cross country teams.
By season’s end, they have logged hundreds of miles together. They have run in driving rain and searing heat.
They have celebrated personal bests; they have been passed in the finish chute. The trials and triumphs seal the camaraderie.
But each runner must complete the race on his or her own terms — no pointing to a bad pass or missed tackle. Cheering from family and friends may lift you along the last 400 yards, yet the second-mile marker up a steep hill can be merciless.
There’s truth in the T-shirt slogan: Our sport is your sport’s punishment.
The New River Valley will be well-represented at the AA state meet, with Christiansburg and Blacksburg anticipating honors.
But I only know the particulars about the Radford racers.
How Andrew Vaccaro works as hard at the start of a run as he does as the finish and displays that same steadiness and cool in his honors classwork.
How Michael Mann always makes team moms feel like we prepared the most delicious pasta at every single carbo-load dinner and how this homecoming king tolerates our middle school daughters with good nature and charm.
How Camille Puckett has more than just one little sister on the team when even birth sister Laura agrees with most assessments that eighth-grader Sarah Kern could be a separated-at-birth Puckett girl.
Team becomes a bit like extended family over the course of the season. The chiding and encouragement, the bickering and forgiving are the fringe benefits of a meaningful, shared experience.
Next year, a new crop of seniors will rise to the occasion and a new mess of middle-schoolers will pester coach Mike Carrow with questions he just answered. And as for the Class of 2013 — thanks for the memories and mentoring. Long may you run.
By Catherine Van Noy
Special to The Burgs | 639-3330