Gritty

The curtain has come down on another cross country season and for the Dordt women’s team a trip to the NAIA National Championship marked the conclusion of the year with a 23rd place finish.

As with most seasons there were several twists and turns along the way. 

One important aspect that many don’t take into account is that you very simply need to have a lead runner.  A runner that sets the standard and on race day can be counted on to challenge for an individual title in each race.

Some athletes are blessed with a natural ability that shines through from the moment they set foot on the course, field or court.  Some have to grow into it.

I say those are types of athletes who beat themselves into being outstanding competitors.  They don’t miss a work out and they simply love to compete whether it’s in practice or a countable competition.

Olivia Couch fits the category of the latter.  Now, don’t get me wrong, she’s got a natural ability, but, that ability didn’t shine through right away.  But it was shining strong this season.

Her freshman season was filled with doubts as you’ll read and she was at a crossroads at the end of year one.  But there was something the cross country coaches saw-something they wanted to groom.

Isn’t that how many of us end up where we’re at?  

Someone saw more in us than we ever saw or see in ourselves and they pushed us.  And when we felt like we couldn’t keep it up those same people were there to put things in perspective and keep us moving forward.

The women’s cross country program is a healthy one.  One athlete passes knowledge on to another.  A  more experienced athlete shows another the path to take and the cycle is repeated with students being challenged the whole way.

Olivia wrote the following piece in the days leading up to the National Meet this past weekend and offers delightful insight into the psyche of a senior who has gleaned much from those around her.

For those who have come before I think it’s safe to say the Dordt cross country program is in good hands.

mbyk

DSC_0432Going into college, I’m not sure I ever had dreams of a successful running career. Originally I thought it would be a community of friends who like to do what I like to do, and that along the way I’d have some okay races and make some decent friends. 

Little did I know that this team would lead me to blessingsrelationshipsrunning success beyond what I could imagine.  

Freshman year, I did NOT prepare well. But who really does, not knowing what to expect at the collegiate level? My goal that year was to break 20 minutes in the 5k. Throughout the course of the season, I began to have some better workouts.

Coach Nate and Coach Lori stopped me one day and told me that they saw potential in the tough workouts that I had been doing, that I had the “grittiness” of the girls I looked up to. 

Coach Nate and Coach Lori stopped me one day and told me that they saw potential in the tough workouts that I had been doing, that I had the “grittiness” of the girls I looked up to. That simple but profound encouragement shaped my approach to the next couple years. 

That freshman year, I had icons like Justine Van Zee, Kelsey Lewis, Erika

Douma, and Erica DeSchiffart. They were incredibly talented, yet incredibly humble. Through conversations on runs, bible studies, and simple meals together, these girls became women whom I looked up to as mentors in life and leaders on the course. I did not make the conference team that year. I don’t remember being too broken up about it because I knew those amazing women would represent the best of our team. 

During indoor track season, there was a transition as I began to run  alongside those ladies who I had chased after during cross country, leaning into the strengths and truths that Coach Wolf spoke into my life. 

I started to see that with a few years committed to hard work and being “gritty”, I too could run at that level.

In outdoor track, I found myself running relays with these girls, and somehow found my way to a nationals podium thanks to their talent and years of hard work. I started to see that with a few years committed to hard work and being “gritty”, I too could run at that level. That summer, I went to work alone, but encouraged by the thought of running with those girls.  

Sophomore year was different though. That 20 minute goal became 19:30 and a spot on the conference and nationals team. That year I ran with Audrey Brooks, who inspired me with her cool confidence. Audrey never complained about anything, either, whether it was awful weather or bumpy courses, she just stubbornly pushed through difficulty, setting the example for the whole team. That culture carried through from first runner to last, each person expected to do the small things right and prioritize responsibilities. I finished the national meet that year in 121st place. 

Running with Annechiena Knevelbaard junior year was a different lesson in running. Where Audrey had been calm and controlled, Anne was more interested in pushing herself and just seeing what was possible. She made racing fun, and she was always smiling after a race or workout. Last year I finished the national meet in 61st place.  

Training this past season was a new challenge. I didn’t know what kind of runner I was going to be, or how my younger teammates would view me as I looked up to the ladies before me. As the season has gone, I see different parts of each girl before me in myself and in this team.

As the season has gone, I see different parts of each girl before me in myself and in this team.

I see Kelsey’s dumb jokes on the start line and Audrey’s collected presence in high-stress races. I see Justine’s leadership and Annechiena’s joy. Running with Sarah Wensink, I have wisdom and determination. 

Mostly though, I see a team of girls who have come together, gone through injuries, salmonella, stress fractures, mono, and more (what could be more than that?) together. I see girls who are incredibly strong and have even more potential to continue leading this team in their own right. I simply would not be where I am without the women before me, or the amazingly strong people beside me 

I pray that if I leave the team with one thing, it is the simple fact that their identity is not in the outcome of any race. It is not in the strength of their bodies, the PR they may or may not get, their All-Conference status, or the Nationals meets they go to. Identity is doing what God made us to do and doing it well to honor Him.

I pray that if I leave the team with one thing, it is the simple fact that their identity is not in the outcome of any race. It is not in the strength of their bodies, the PR they may or may not get, their All-Conference status, or the Nationals meets they go to. Identity is doing what God made us to do and doing it well to honor Him.

It is so freeing to race with nothing on the line, knowing God has already been and will be glorified when I seek him for purpose and confidence

God doesn’t promise us a cheap prosperity gospel of PRs and  wins; he promises the richest love and most secure identity

Our ministries and callings go far beyond what happens on a cross country course, but running can teach us how to accomplish those purposes well. 

The lessons I’ve learned from running with these women and doing life with them will last far beyond when I’ve hung up my spikes. I don’t know what place I’ll finish tomorrow, but I do know I’m leaving my jersey in a better place, just as those who’ve gone before me have.

That is the legacy of Dordt Cross Country.  

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