By Mckenzie Van Loh | Sports Editor
With the shot of a gun, 248 hungry Cross Country runners launched onto a ripe, grassy course, tearing the ground behind them with hopes and dreams of victory. The women’s MIAC championship race was now underway, and tension ran higher than Bethel’s dammed creek amidst the sinkhole construction.
My green headband poked through the mass of filthy legs, oscillating ponytails and chunky face paint. I scanned the crowd of spectators in a quest to spot my friends and family.
“Hey, Kiddo!” my dad said as he peered through his camera lens. Click.
As the runners squeezed together, rivalries among all 12 of the competing schools loomed over the crowd. With little room to maneuver around one another, elbows flew and feet were nicked.
We moved like raging rapids. No room to breathe or make a wrong move. The current of racers ripped around a corner. A runner from St. Thomas and a runner wearing red crashed into me from both sides.
Who knew my ankle could make such a loud sound? The force flung me to the outskirts of the race where I hobbled on what felt like a peg leg. I had only run a quarter mile and I still had three and a half left to go.
In this moment I had a decision. I could either drop out and tend to my fresh injury, or finish the remainder of the race.
I thought about all the training I had done where my legs felt like hot sauce and I wanted to quit but didn’t. I thought about my friends who had come to encourage me in this final race. Lastly, I thought about my rivals who unknowingly gave me a grade two lateral ankle sprain as a product of their competitive spirits.
A smirk crept across my face and I jolted forward. This race was mine and I would finish.
I laughed at myself for still running. I laughed at the pain in my ankle. I laughed as I calmly mentioned to a friend cheering for me that, “I think I sprained my ankle but imma finish!”
I stumbled over the finish line and into the arms of a teammate who was there to congratulate me. I completed the 6k race at 29:15 with an average pace of 7:50 minutes per mile; about three minutes slower than the time I would normally finish. I plopped on the grass to wiggle my ankle. It felt numb and foreign. Mike, our trainer came to inspect the damage.
With a ballooning ankle, I returned to the safety of my home, kicked back on the couch and checked the results of the race. I still had the crisp memory of a St. Thomas runner treating me to my first ankle sprain, and I hoped to see them go home without a victory.
A picture of beaming women wearing purple flashed on my Facebook feed. The sign they held read, “MIAC CHAMPIONS.”
I know St. Thomas didn’t try to sprain my ankle. I was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time among a crowd of the most competitive women in St. Paul. However, this does not mean I never felt disappointment.
A few days afterward, I stumbled into the Wellness Center in hopes of having a killer workout. I parked my butt in the last available stationary bike. I felt bitter, upset and trapped. I was a prisoner in my own body. My teammates were running in what was left of the warm weather while I was memorizing the sequence of the Wellness Center slideshow. Out of frustration, I slapped my boot on my gimpy leg and stomped ferociously to the soho parking lot to race away in my car. If I couldn’t run my favorite routes, I would drive them.
It has been six weeks since then. I still have some healing to do, but God has blessed me with a healthy recovery. With every improvement I thank Him for the gift of running and the joy it brings me.
I hope to redeem myself next fall for my last cross country season by becoming even stronger and faster than the day my favorite hobby was temporarily taken from me. Perhaps next time I find myself cruising through a raging river of fierce cross country runners, I won’t get snagged by the intense competition that manifests across the MIAC. However, even if I do, I know I can still put up a good fight.