Karly's race didn't go as either of us had hoped. It was difficult for Karly to not run her best race on the biggest stage of her life. But she reached a level that had never been achieved by a Grand Forks Central runner before. She qualified for the nations highest quality cross country meet, toed the line, and raced. It will be a race she will always remember, and I was very proud to be her coach.
Her trip started when she was picked up at the airport from by a chaperone, and taken to the athlete's hotel. The athletes were catered to the entire time, with meals and their own athlete lounge. She and the rest of individuals and teams who had qualified were driven to Nike headquarters and fitted for training shoes, spikes, warm up clothing, singlet, sleeves, and jacket. They were the royality of the US High school cross country runners, it must have been an amazing feeling.
After the race, Nike hosted a coaches clinic at Nike headquarters. It was a question and answer session with Alberto Salazar (coach of Oregon Project), Galen Rupp (Olympian) , Eric Jenkins (Olympian), and David McHenry (Oregon Project physical therapist). I sat in the front and listened to an Olympic coach give advice on running the 5k, training runners for the Olympics, and share stories about his time training Galen and Eric. It made me excited to get back to Central and keep improving our program.
At dinner our final night there, after the clinic, Karly and I ate with all of the other runners, coaches, and Olympians. It was crazy to be walking around and suddenly have an Olympic runner talking to you, asking you how the race went, giving advice, and sharing their own experiences. After dinner Hassan Mead, 3 time Olympic runner in the 5k approached us. He understood that Karly's race hadn't gone as well as she had wished, and he gave her and I both advice. That moment will be what I remember the most, just having that chance to talk to someone of that ability. It made me look around and realize in that room there were several Olympic runners, and most likely that day there had been several future Olympians that had raced in that high school race.
So the main thing is what did I learn from this experience? I can see why the teams who have quailfied, keep striving to get there again, why the same teams keep making back to Portland. They have had a taste of this experience, and they go home and recommit & challenge themselves to do the work necessary to go back and compete at this level again and again. I see why teams who have made it, keep making it. They develop the enivironment and culture within their program to want to be at the top of this sport. Once you experience an event like this, you desire to do it again, it makes you willing to sacrifice and work to get to another level to want to go back. You bring that desire home to your teammates, you share the stories, pictures, and give them that hope of attending Nike nationals.
Personally, I have dreamed and strived to reach this level as a program for years. I hope that we have taken a peek at what the next level is like and will build the level of commitment to bring a team to Nike Nationals next time. My ultimate goal is to share this special event with more of our athletes, to encourage them dream to race at higher levels than they think are possible, to be able to look around a room, a race, and see Olymipic runners, and suddenly realize that just maybe, they are that future Olympic runner also.