The Pursuit

IMG_8800It’s an exciting time of the year.  The women’s and men’s cross country teams earned GPAC titles a week and half a go.  The volleyball team went 16-0 in the league and won the post-season tournament and the football team had its best ever season with a 7-3 record.

I’ve grown to love the sport of cross country.

I love the fact that you go out and run and train as a team. You encourage and you ‘drag along’ runners who may be faltering.  I love that there is no substituting once the race has begun.  You figure out a way to trust your training and find a way to give more than you thought you had to finish a race and finish it well.  I love that you can prepare as an individual and measure progress—as Rick VanderBerg told me a long time ago, the stopwatch doesn’t lie.

 I’m sure coach Wolf has the charts and measurements but I’ll almost guarantee the runners that prepare properly for a season have a much better experience when the team converges for competition than those who took short cuts—the sport rewards the athlete who has put the work in.

Both Dordt cross country teams are running at the NAIA National Meet this weekend.  Coach Wolf graciously agreed to pen his thoughts about the past season and what it means to pursue championships.

Was this season a success because the teams qualified for nationals or is qualifying for nationals simply a bi-product of a season well spent? 

Would this season be a success if the teams hadn’t won a conference title? 

The answer to that last question is a resounding yes and coach Wolf lays out why in the following entry.

And this is why I’m happy to tell team’s stories.    

When you read this you may think Nate is the exception in his approach and I would have to tell you that you’re wrong.  Each of our coaches, in some fashion, plan and implement exercises and goals for growth beyond the physical.  They don’t apologize for chasing goals that may seem high and lofty but they also don’t have to apologize when a championship isn’t won.

It’s been with great joy I’ve followed the team’s exploits through Mycah Hulst’s work on Twitter and Instagram….if you haven’t you can follow them at dcxc_tf and get an inside look at how the program approaches its pursuit of championships.

And when those final results come in on Friday, stop and think about the work that went into those three mile and five mile races.

mbyk

The Pursuit 

I have an exercise for you (great way to start off a blog on running, right?).   You will need the following: 1.) A paper map of the United States and Canada.  2.) A thumb tack.  3.) A piece of string. 4.)   A permanent marker.  Once you have these things, take the map and put it on a hard surface.  Then, take the marker and tie it onto one end of the string.  Once that is done, lay the pen on Winnipeg, Canada and stretch the string to Sioux Center, placing the thumbtack through Sioux Center and fixing the string to that location with the tack.

Now, take the pen and trace a circle, starting at Winnipeg.  Your circle should encompass Detroit, Nashville, Dallas, Grand Junction, CO, and Bozeman, MT.  The Dordt Women’s team ran from Sioux Center to any point on that circle, from June to November 3 in preparation for the GPAC Cross Country Championship meet (you can do this same exercise for the men, but would have to start in Corpus Christi, TX).  That’s a lot of preparation.

I realize this is the point that many of you might be clicking the “x” at the top right of the page.  “I get it” you might think, “they are cross country runners, they run, a lot.”  Seriously though, go look at a map and see those distances, even as their coach I shake my head sometimes.  However, this isn’t about how many miles they run (or have run).  This is about redefining what we see as success in athletics.

On November 4, the Dordt College Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams did something that hadn’t been done since the inception of the GPAC in 2000.  They won the men’s and women’s individual and team championships.

That’s pretty neat, and as their coach, I was proud of their preparation (seriously, look at the map), their effort, and the maturity that they showed all season long and especially at the conference race.  However, I told the team in our pre-championship meeting that the success of the season would not be defined by the results of one day.

Rather, the success of the season was in the commitment they had shown to each other to prepare for the season on their own during the summer and together through the Fall months.

Rather, the success of the season was in the commitment they had shown to each other to prepare for the season on their own during the summer and together through the Fall months.  It was in the relationships they had built over the course of the season.

It was in the recognition that God has blessed them with an amazing ability to move over his earth for long durations at fast speeds.

The success for their year was complete before the race even started.

The success for their year was complete before the race even started.

What lay before them was an opportunity to celebrate their work and to worship God with all their strength.  That is what I saw at 10:45 and 11:30 on that morning.  A group of women that poured themselves physically and emotionally into a tough race, with their teammates and families encouraging them to find another part of themselves to expend.  And a group of men that banded together, pushing and pulling each other through difficult stretches of the race, their teammates and families spurring them to search for additional effort with 1600, 800, 400, and 200 meters to go in the race.

I want to back up to the late summer of 2017; I remember early conversations with our Athletic Director, Ross Douma, on the creation of The Defender Way.

In an early draft, we talked about championships and how the idea of winning championships might fit into a Christian College Athletic Department’s mission.  Out of that early draft and those conversations grew the idea of pursuit (what a great running term) of championships.

I am thankful to be part of an athletic department that does not have a goal OF championships, but OF THE PURSUIT of championships.  To me, this is an important distinction.

This is a unique idea in our sport-crazed culture in North American and is one that Christian schools of all levels also struggle with.  The idea of a pursuit of championships gives us, as coaches at Dordt, many avenues to talk with our athletes about what is important in our culture and how we as Christians could measure athletic success differently.

Our football team at Dordt just finished their most successful season in school history, but the coaches spend hours beyond football working to develop young men from all over the country into great students and impactful kingdom citizens.

Our basketball coaches have team themes Made-2-Thrive and Made-4-More which they utilize in an effort to create cultures of servant leadership within their teams.

These student athletes in turn can impact our athletic department at Dordt as well as our campus community.

The cross country team’s season theme was “Set Apart: Pursuing and Uncommon Goal Together” and we discussed what it means to be Holy and how this idea changes how we might look at our season.  I could go on about the other teams within our department as each coach works passionately, in their own ways, towards these same ends.  Unfortunately, we fall short of our goals too often and this is true with The Defender Way as well.  However, like I told my team… it isn’t the result that determines our success, it is the countless miles that we have to run to get there.

I am thankful to be part of an athletic department that is intentionally working to “run the race.”  As a Dordt College Athletic Department, we will fail and fall as we pursue these things, but we will get up, learn, and strive to do better.

As a department, we understand that sport is too big of a piece of our culture for us not to work to impact it in the same way our engineering, biology, and education departments (and all the other departments) are impacting the world.

As a department, we understand that sport is too big of a piece of our culture for us not to work to impact it in the same way our engineering, biology, and education departments (and all the other departments) are impacting the world.

Read that again, that is exciting and much more lasting than championships or individual awards.

As they prepare to race their final race of the season this Friday, I am excited to see nearly 140,000 minutes of combined running preparation bear fruit and watch seven men and seven women use their gifts to their fullest potential for around 26:00 and 18:00 respectively.

Regardless of the final results, I think we can all define what they have done as success.

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