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It was our first Seattle-esque Cross Country meet. Ominous skies, cooler temps, sprinkles here and there. At one point a group of kids were chanting “Downpour! Downpour! Downpour!” The rain gods never did send a deluge. Racers ran around playing football with pinecones. Some ran laps around the track. They were busy doing anything active until their race. The coaches all told their kids to keep warm.

With mud caked shoes the athletes ran their hearts out. I was sitting along the home stretch part of the track. The part where the coaches yelled encouragement to their kids and screamed tips.

Don’t look back!
Just watch the runner ahead of you!
Pass her!
You got this! He’s looking back! You can take him!
Dig deep baby!
Strong arms!
Sprint!

So much encouragement. It was neat to watch the coaches and the racers reactions. My favorite race was the 7/8 grade girls. The girls would come around the corner and the coaches would coach. The first ten girls all looked the same – like they were ready to burst into tears. It wasn’t a look of frustration or of giving up. It was a look of desperate determination. The mind was trying to convince the body it can keep going. If only I could be a bug in their ear. I would tell them to cry. Let go of that primal scream that comes with the last bit of fight pulled from deep inside, and run your guts out.

I only saw each runner’s face for a few seconds. I don’t know if any kids did cry. I would have. I think liquid escaping the body is often the only soothing way to get everything out. Bleeding when pain cuts like a knife. Sweating when the body is being pushed to its limits. Crying when words aren’t enough. The tears I saw were at the end of the last race.

Athletes would finish the race and soon after were seen walking away from the action with their families. It’s hard to say if they were leaving for good. It sure looked like it. Understandably, even the people waiting till the last race were packing it up. Not Gavin’s school. We knew there was one more runner. No man would be left behind.

Teammates disappeared one by one. Suddenly a herd of blue uniforms rounded the corner and came down that final stretch. One boy broke free from the middle of the crowd sprinting the last several yards into the lane created by traffic barriers and yellow tape. The group of kids melted off to the sidelines. Adults standing by wiped tears from their eyes. Some were heard saying, “I guess I will cry at the end of every meet!” It is touching to watch the team bring Miles home each week.

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