• Cross country is the sport of the fit. There is no skill; there are no heart-warming underdog comebacks. If you’re faster than the guy next to you, you win. If you’re slower, you lose. That’s that. If you walk up to an event in worse physical condition than the competition, you will not succeed. It’s harsh, but that’s the truth. The race is five-thousand meters of pure sweat and competitive drive. As soon as you begin, you leave all thoughts back in the box. All you can possibly know is that you’re tired, and that there are many people who would love to beat you.
    There are essentially two sentiments that accompany a runner at any time in the race, depending on the situation. There’s the utterly indescribable feeling of being passed by another runner. All you can do is watch as someone faster, fitter and more competitive than you glide past. Then, there’s the even less describable feeling of overtaking the opponent. It hurts, physically, but you know that you’re better than whomever you’ve just beaten. You were faster, you were stronger, and you had more willpower.
    I experience both of these sensations equally; I am the worst of the best and the best of the worst. I pass runners as often as they pass me. I am never extremely disappointed with my results, nor am I particularly pleased. I am completely average in the world of cross country running. This is actually more unfortunate than being dead last. At least no one expects anything of you when you run a mile in twenty minutes. When you’re in the void between medalists and wannabes, like me, there’s always the expectation that you’ll improve and finally win that medal. To this day, I have not had the honor of receiving that universal symbol of victory. I’ve barely even gotten close, until recently.
    I don’t think I’ve ever been cheated out of anything more heart-breaking than this. I thought it was going to be a regular meet, just like the rest; 3.1 miles, several hundred people, and no real impact. In fact, at first, when I found out I would be running for the varsity team and not JV as usual, I was a little excited. Was I finally good enough to be one of the top seven? Maybe I would actually do well, instead of dwell in mediocrity like I always did. Then I heard that there were only six teams, which was highly unusual. Then I received a third, gut-wrenching shock when I discovered that each team was only presenting seven runners. Only forty-two people to run against.
    Had I been on JV, this would have been a blessing. I was one of the best on the JV team. Sometimes I was even in the top twenty-five percent of finishers. With these small numbers, I would have snagged a medal for sure. On varsity, I was in the back of the bunch. Avoiding last place was optimistic at best. I couldn’t keep up with any of the others on my team, let alone the other, larger schools.
    Varsity teams ran first, then JV teams. It was as though fate was poking me in the eyes. I wanted to shout, “Come on! Give me a break!” Even if I had, my voice would have been too frail to support the words. The race was mortifyingly intense. I felt really good at first, but towards the end of mile one, I was being passed constantly. With each person’s back I saw drifting farther away, I lost motivation. By the end, I had slipped all the way back to thirty-fourth. I comforted myself with the fact that I had not finished last, but I was still disappointed. I recovered from the run and watched as the JV race started.
    I saw all the people I easily beat at practices pulling ahead to the front, and felt a surge of frustration. If I had been running in that race, and not in varsity, I would likely be in first place! What was my coach thinking? Not only did I drag my team down (the places of each finisher were added, and whichever team had the lowest score won), but I had also been eviscerated individually. No one benefitted from my sudden promotion. When the JV team had finished, I felt a whole new wave of anger: not only did one of my team-mates, someone who I run faster than consistently, claim third place, and another claim fourth, but the runners who had beaten them had still been slower than me. I had no doubt in my mind that I would have not only placed as a medalist in the JV race, but I might have gotten first place overall.
    I’ve mentioned earlier that I have never yet, to this date, been awarded a medal for cross country running. This race would have been my golden opportunity to win a medal, and even possibly be the champion, and it was snatched right out from under me, and for absolutely no reason. A team needed five runners to qualify, and I was the seventh. The JV team was decent without me, but we could have easily gotten first place with three runners in the top ten instead of two. I have yet to find a reason that my coach thought it a wise decision to give me a spot on varsity, and I have yet to possess any kind of proof that I ever ran cross country, whether it be a medal or a ribbon or a simple photo. What I do have is a losing team and a bleak future as a varsity runner.