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YU Cross-Country: A Way of Life

Much to my dad’s chagrin, I was never very good at being sporty.

Sure, I tried my best. Begged my parents to put up four squares’ worth of concrete in the backyard so I could “shoot hoops” (it now functions as an excellent patio ground for our Succah). Went to tennis day camp (for approximately four days before a “shoulder injury” took me out of the game. I was, obviously, devastated). I even tried my hand at soccer (fractured greenstick in my left wrist, but the knee socks were pretty cool).

Try as I might, by the time the other girls in my grade caught up to my early growth spurt and I went from a starter on my eighth-grade basketball team to most enthusiastic benchwarmer—thanks for the confidence boost, Coach Shyman—I was ready to trade in my Air Jordans for…insert non-stereotypical-but-adequately-feminine shoe of your choice.

So last spring, I tried out for the YU Cross-Country (XC) team on a whim. Running had always been my favorite way to burn off the calories from the occasional (daily) donut, and I figured it would be a good way to exercise. After huffing and puffing my way through a 5K (approximately 3.1-mile) race, I made the team, and officially became a part of YU athletics.

Based on my past experiences with the sporting world, I figured my career on XC would be a short-lived one. However, something different happened with this sport than with the rest. I became committed. I was driven. I was motivated.

Why? Because XC isn’t just a sport. It’s a way of life.

I know, cue the national anthem and a slow-mo shot of the team bursting through a YU athletics banner in a crazed display of victory. But as cliché as I just sounded, it’s true.

Some people seem confused about the draw of XC. One of my friends incredulously asked me one morning why I put in all this effort “just to run.” And I totally hear her. When most people think running, they envision offensively short shorts (unfortunately true) and people running around for ostensibly no good reason whatsoever. But what people don’t realize is that running, and learning to run right, actually affects every part of your life. Running the actual races is just the cherry on top of a giant, XC-flavored cake (low fat and whole wheat during training season).

Running XC teaches perseverance. It teaches discipline. It teaches you to push yourself farther than you ever thought possible. Since running is largely mental, XC teaches you that your fastest is never really your fastest, and that only you stand between you and victory. XC teaches both developing your individual strengths and learning to function as part of a larger team.

Obviously the physical aspects of XC are vital to our successes as runners. Running takes a fast (hehe) toll on your body, and the only remedies are stretching, ice packs, and rest. Unfortunately the last solution is not an option during training and racing season, so if there’s ever an ice shortage in the YU caf, you can bet an XC runner has something to do with it.

Eating right is also a must, and contrary to popular belief XC runners do not starve themselves. The very opposite—the boys eat like pigs, and the girls eat like super delicate, feminine pigs (the girls also don’t sweat—we glisten). We just make sure to eat the right things, like proteins and carbs, especially before race days. At pre-season camp at the Kutcher Sports Academy in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I can proudly say that our boys were the last ones at the tables every time (take that, soccer).

More important than the physical demand of XC, however, is the mentality required to run, and run well. Serious running requires extreme dedication and resolve. At the beginning of the summer, XC Coach Ben Joslin doled out individualized training schedules that had us running 5 or 6 days a week. Now that school is in full swing, the girls have daily 6:30AM runs and the boys run every night. It’s a huge time commitment, but more than that, running is exhausting and at times frustrating. To push through the physical and mental pain we need positive attitudes and drive, and that’s often something a person has to cultivate rather than draw from naturally. I can honestly say that I think I’ve become a more positive person since joining the XC team.

This is not to say, of course, that running XC can’t be an extremely gratifying and satisfying experience. This season especially, the XC team is setting quite the standard at the races. Thus far in the season both the men’s and women’s teams have placed 2nd overall in the two races run at Van Cortlandt Park, the Baruch Cross-Country 2011 Invitational and at the Queensborough Invitational a week later. Out of those two races, several of our men and women “medaled” (made-up XC verb indicating one who receives a medal at a race), meaning they finished in the top 15 or 20 of over 90-odd runners. We will race our two championships post-Chagim, titled the HVMACS/ HVWACS and the Skyline Championships, and we aim to surpass our prior achievements at those two final races.

The YU XC men and women’s teams are going somewhere this season that no prior XC team has dared venture before. We are turning running into an actual, verifiable sport at YU, into teams that—hopefully—win trophies, but more importantly, win respect in representing such a challenging yet rewarding sport. I say without any hesitation that I love the XC team, and I think that every member of the team would admit the same. We are fast, we are strong, and we are good. It gives me great pride and pleasure to be a part of something so monumental, and my hope is that this year sets a precedent for continually raising the bar on the XC teams for many seasons to come.

If only Coach Shyman could see me now.