If sprinting is an art, then long-distance running is a passion. There’s a love among prep runners for what they do on bumpy, hilly, flat and quirky courses. It shows with every step they take and every move they make.
I know. I’ve been watching them for more than four decades and wonder what keeps those individual motors humming.
Cross country isn’t for everybody because some athletes consider running a punishment. No doubt, it’s punishing. Yet as the 10th annual Alton Road Runners banquet demonstrated Sunday, the distance crew is one big family, delighted to share common ground and a customary cause.
That’s why Road Runners president Russ Colona, the cross country coach at East Alton-Wood River High, welcomed runners from 13 schools. From Litchfield to Triad to Jerseyville to Alton, harriers flocked to the Runners of the Year fete.
“In high school cross country, the coaches get along and the kids get along,” said Colona, emcee for the event. “I’ve also coached track and basketball, but there’s nothing like cross country.”
The Road Runners saluted numerous runners. The prep group included: Colleen Madden and Cory Landon of Carlinville, Haley Kerpan and Garrett Fulkerson of EA-WR, Zoe Ross and Ben Polo of Gillespie, Kyrston Scifres and Jeddah Gallego of Roxana, Elani Herman and Ryan Krause of Triad, Kayleigh Grace and Ben Flowers of Jersey; Alex Singleton and Ryan Gunter of Civic Memorial, Maddie Custer and Ben Baumgartner of Carrollton, Alexis Throne and Ryan Poggenpohl of Litchfield, Gretchen Engelbrecht and Darion Brooks of Metro East Lutheran, Erin Laubscher and Brandon Myatt of Southwestern, Rebecca Adney and Arie Macias of Alton, plus Elizabeth Lynn and Byrdon Groves-Scott of Edwardsville.
Youth runners Paige Nowak, Kendall Peuterbaugh, Abby Gehrs, Laynie Gehrs, Nick Ritchie and Ryan Lampe also were honored. So were volunteers Sherry and Cliff Winenger. They shared the Allen Tuetken service award.
Edwardsville High assistant coach Dustin Davis, a former standout competitor for the Tigers and then at Southeast Missouri in Cape Girardeau, spoke about the steeled mindset of runners.
“We are all barrier-breakers,” he said. “You need to have a good work ethic, perseverance and determination. Those are the same tools that make you successful in life.”
Davis is showing true grit in his fight to overcome thyroid cancer.
“It has been the toughest battle I’ve faced,” he said. “I’ve made progress, but I needed to prove to myself that I wouldn’t let cancer rule my life. I ran a half-marathon and finished the race. It was one of my proudest achievements.”
He added, “You will have difficulties in life to test your courage. You have to push yourself to get through them and not give in to hardships.”
It’s natural for runners to deal with joy and sorrow. Every race has a measure of success and a portion of adversity. That goes with the territory.
“Running is something you can do forever,” Colona said. “Sometimes you can do it just for fun because that what it’s all about — it’s a fun-friendly sport.”
The local high school competitors had their fun running this fall. Now there’s the off-season, followed by track in the spring and cross country again in 2015 for many of them.
More than a dozen of the Runners of the Year award recipients will be back next season.
And along the way, if they happen to run through the woods on a snowy evening, they’ll realize there are miles to go before they peak.
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