Reflecting The End Of An Era In My Life

January 30, 2015

In sixth grade, I made another of my random life decisions that has lead to something that is a huge part of my life. Honestly, that's how I make all of my decisions. I randomly decided to join cross country as a fall sport once I was in sixth grade and eligible to participate in after-school competitive sports. I always played sports: from tee-ball to softball, from basketball, now to cross country. I always ran for basketball to stay in shape, so I figured, why not? Joining cross country was the first step in my becoming a three season athlete physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Like all athletes, I had a rough beginning with the sport. I remember two things that stuck out to me: one time, someone asked me, "Nikki, do you do cross country because your parents told you to, or because you felt like it?" Another time, I remember my coach telling us that we were going to run four miles during practice, and I remember thinking "Four miles????!?! What?" However, in 7th and 8th grade I was either second or third place every race. I realized that I liked the feeling of flying through the woods, trekking up the hills, and sailing into that finish line. I lived to grab that popsicle stick at the finish line.

It was only natural for me to run in high school. It was also helpful that a few girls from my private middle school also ran for my high school. There were so many of us, that there was a joke that we just took over the team. The familiarity helped me assimilate into the team, which helped me adapt to high school culture in general. I had been running with the girls all summer at captain's practices three days a week, and we had practices with the coach and the full team a week before school started. That was nice for two reasons: I got to keep up on all the drama of my hometown of the summer, and when school started, I had someone to talk to or eat lunch with if I didn't have any friends to eat with. 

My high school team.

The first few years of high school, I wasn't what you would call an elite athlete. I didn't make varsity until junior year, and that was only for one race. It was a combination of me being not "varsity level", and other girls being naturally better. I say naturally, because though I am not a "natural" of any sorts, nor was I born with the perfect running body, but I am a hard worker. When giving out an award to me, my coach would say, "If I told Nikki to run into a wall, she would." The thing is, I probably would. My college coach said the same thing. Every hill workout, long run, and repeat workout, I would do the brunt of it without complaining. My senior year I saw my times drop and my ranks improve, along with my confidence level.

However, I was still convinced that I wasn't going to run in college. I wasn't top varsity so I didn't think that I would be good enough to be competitive in college. However, before my college orientation, I searched the times of the women's team for their 5Ks and I realized that I could totally be competitive with them. That, the fact that it is a DIII school, and that I met the coach and a future teammate and friend, Claire, at orientation and they were really nice solidified the fact that I was going to be an NCAA athlete in the future.

After my first college race. We had to drive to New Hampshire and got caught in traffic. We showed up the race five minutes before the gun went off, so we weren't stretched or warmed up at all. I also ran with a newly opened scab that I had to have someone haphazardly wrap on the bus. You can see the wrapping, I'm the fourth one from the right. Everyone said that they would have quit if it was their first race, but I would never quit. I would give anything to go back to how things were there.

Joining the SSU cross country team was the best decision I ever made in my collegiate life. It helped me in a similar way socially as it did in high school. Moving in early and taking a ferry from Boston to Spectacle Island to do mile repeats was a bonding experience I could never have with any other group of friends. Now, I can call my team some of the best friends I will ever have and will ever meet.

In my first year of intercollegiate competition, I was either second or third place every race, and had a 22:52 PR for a 5K time. My second year, I was either third or fifth place every race and had 23:34 PR for my 5K. Even though every "tempo Tuesday", hill repeat, ten mile run on Sundays, and 
nerve-wracking race was difficult, terrifying, and testing but was so worthwhile. Even in the moment when I hated it, I lived for it. I loved every minute of it. I loved myself for keeping to it, dedicating and disciplining myself. I kept my body and mind in great shape. Through being a collegiate athlete, I have gained time-management, professional, and team building skills. I've gotten to run in beautiful places such as Mt. Greylock, Colt State Park, Gallows Hill, Salem Willows, Marblehead Neck, Castle Rock, Spectacle Island, Salem-Beverly Bridge, many beauty rail trails around Massachusetts. I've gotten the opportunity to meet a great group of individuals that I can call my team, friends, and support system.

A very cold conference meet this year. I'm in the second row on the right.

If you couldn't already tell by the sappiness of this post, the university due to budget problems has chosen to cut the cross country program from the athletic roster. I've dealt with this many ways these past fews weeks: anger, tears, rant, despair, etc. However, I thought it would only be right to get some feelings out with a blog post. Cross country has been in my life for eight years. Running will never stop for me. My team will always be my team, my coach my coach, my friends my friends, my awards my awards, my miles ran my miles ran. They can take my program from me, but they can't take my feet from me.  They will never take the open road from me. I will always stay running.
Our first race this year. Lady Viking huddle!

I feel like a part of me is gone. Cross country has been ever-present in my life sine sixth grade. Even though I played basketball, softball, and lacrosse, I was always just wishing it could be fall again so I could toe the line with my best friends. There was no off-season. Where do I go from here? A running club is going to be started at the University. There is some interest in that. I'll do that to stay in shape and do the thing I love, but, in all honesty it's not the same. The administration knows it's not the same. I'll take the bone they're throwing at us for now, but I know half of my effort in the running club will be fundraising so that in two more years or so, the administration can see the funds raised and perhaps raise cross country to varsity level again. I won't be here for it, but if I can no longer be benefitted by the perks of being a collegiate athlete, I want another lost freshmen to find their place through such a great sport.

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