As a freshman in high school, I ran junior varsity cross country for my school. I did it because I’m naturally a pretty good runner and I wanted to build endurance for the upcoming basketball season. My high school had a very strong CC program — good enough to compete for the state title every year. It was an understood expectation that the JV team would be the future of the program and therefore we were expected to perform at our meets as well.
The goal for our CC team was to rack up as many medals as possible during the season. That meant that each runner must do their part to earn a medal in each race. In a 5k (3.1 miles) race with 60-120 participants, a runner needed to finish in the top 15 to medal. I began every race with the intention of giving it my all and hoping that my best effort would be enough to finish with one of those 15 medals. I found out quickly that there were A LOT of really good runners as talented, if not more so, as myself.
More than halfway through the season with seven meets down, I hadn’t earned a medal yet.
But on this one particular day, I felt really good. I felt fast. There was another boy on the team, our best runner, Mike Maher. It’s one of those names that sticks with you forever, no matter how old you get. He ran varsity as a freshman in some meets, but on this day I decided that I was going to stay with him. I was going to stay on his heels if it killed me. We started the race and I surprised myself; I STAYED WITH HIM! Stride for stride, breath for breath. I was in second place!…… Until I ran out of gas. It happened suddenly with about a mile to go before I hit a wall. My breathing was uncontrollably deep and laboring. I kept running but I couldn’t keep up. Mike strode ahead with his feet barely touching the ground. Runners from other schools began to pass me on both sides. It seemed like 30 runners flew by. I lost hope.
As we made the turn into the last half mile, a coach for another school ran beside the boy in front of me and said, “All you have to do is pass the guy in front of you to medal!” I heard him loud and clear. My chin lifted, my legs strengthened. I felt sudden energy that I thought was lost. I began to sprint. I passed the boy in front of me, the boy in front of him, and the boy in front of him in the last quarter mile! Good enough for 13th place and the medal that I so dearly wanted. After that race, I medaled in three of the final four meets of the season.
One of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned in my life, I learned when I was 14: Even when you think you’ve used all your energy and exhausted all your resources, you always, ALWAYS, have more in the tank. You always have one more step.