Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pineapples to State Cross Country Meets

From Pineapples at 14,000 Feet to 1st at State Cross Country, building champions is a process, not an event.


Back in 1979, a few Lindbergh Cross Country runners and their Coach were exploring colorful Colorado.  They had traveled by school bus there, 1000 miles from St. Louis and were to spend a ten days hiking, whitewater rafting and adventuring through the mountains.  Getting lost together, then persisting till things were familiar, bringing enough food to feed growing young men, including the special treat of dried pineapple, and not leaving anyone on the trails of adventure carved patterns and models foundational for later successes.  Sharing adventures like this was the scaffold for conversations.  Carrying a pack for days into the backcountry stripped any superficial bravado and formed bonds among the participants deeper than many others.  Battling together gave Coach the right to say things like, "We should do this, for a real adventure," or "Let's conquer this mountain," and a perennial favorite, "You might win state this year."

According to a Lindbergh High School web site, Missouri state Cross Country championships were won in 1972, 74, 75, 76, 77 and 78. This record leads us to ask a few questions; How did they do that? Was it a fluke, a good year, year after year?  Was is a great string of luck?  Did state caliber competitors join the cross country team every year?  Or were there conditions common to these years that we can duplicate today?  Was there something that contributed to this success that we might apply to our other situations?

Local newspapers called this era a dynasty, a tradition and mentioned the pack is back!  These teams of young men regularly and consistently found success on the course, but went on in life to persist, determined to accomplish their goals.  What ingredients were vital?

The summer before this picture was taken, this young man, Brian, was on one if those great adventures west.  During these trips, like every other, conversations evolved from the weather and the local sports team records to more serious matters, like ethics, drive, motivation, sacrifice, effort and pain.   After a day of hiking 10 miles with a full backpack, the conversations of struggle and conquest seemed more authentic.  There was nothing easy about carrying oneself and gear from 9,000 feet, over a mountain pass to 12,000+ feet above sea level, then back down to 11,000 for a camp by a lake!  The journey was a struggle, but the destination offset the pain.  The reward outweighed the self-inflicted stress and the memory became the prize.  The experience shared together became foundational for future contests as a team and later as individuals!  Adventures like these were personal, individual and unique among these teams, yet adventures were common ingredients for success.

Later, during the season, this same group of young men was assembled into formal teams of cross country runners, where seven competed together as a team and the sum of the place values of the first five runners to cross the finish line became the team's score.  These men ran miles as a group, competing against others, traveling like a pack and supporting each other along the way.  When the scores were tallied, Lindbergh Cross Country teams more often than not, had the lowest and winningest records.  This deep camaraderie cannot be bought or borrowed but can only be built through mutual experience.  Thus, as a team they ran, but as individuals each gave everything.

Typically, the state cross country meet is held in an early weekend of November.  As the season progressed the competition continued to increase as the Lindbergh met better opponents on their journey to State.  The Saturday before, Brian, the one pictured in green and gold, got beat badly.  On Monday, Coach sought him out at school and they had a visit.  Strategy was the theme of this talk and an entire week was needed to work through the details.  The recommendation was going to focus on pace, location in relation to team mates and the finish. The encouragement may have sounded like this: "Brian, these other runners are VERY talented.  They know what it takes to win a race. They have been winning races all season. But you too have been winning!  You have moxie, training and talent.  Now, we are going to talk about how to run this state race.  Brian, stay with the rest of your team for the first of the three miles. Be their beacon.  Set their pace and don't worry about any other runners but the ones on our team. On the second mile, make a move.  Increase your pace and get the front in focus! Don't expect to lead yet but increase your stride. The final mile is all yours.  Don't hold anything back but expect those other competitors to have drained each other on their quest to win too early.  They may compete against each other and exert too much energy too soon!"  This coaching, guidance or direction began to sink in!

During the race, this plan was followed.  He ran with the pack early, conserving precious energy. After the mile he increased his stride and passed many other runners.  As Brian neared the end, during the last mile, when he was instructed to give it all, he saw Coach on the sideline yelling words of encouragement.  This was nothing new.  Coach was always positive.  This time though, Coach caused a scene, jumping up and down as well.  That was enough for Brian.  He held nothing back and gave everything.  He finished that race before all the other runners that day and Brian won the state cross country meet.

Lessons from these events are individual and personal.  Everyone took away something different; persistence, training, listening to guidance, and strategy to name a few. Some, like Brian, took hardware but everyone learned something personal. The events of that day, including the work leading up to that competition became the building blocks or model for success.  The single-minded focus, drive and support are all components.  Yet these ingredients are common in nearly every other competitive setting. 

Does this rendition of those past events point to anything?





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