I have a secret to share with you. I was a football, volleyball, basketball guy for a long time. Like my whole life. Big into the “real” sports — whatever that means — that get covered consistently.
Cross country? No way. Put the results in the small print in the newspaper. An afterthought for most people, myself included. The state meet was cool, I am sure, but it was on football Friday. I am not missing that for running.
And, then I made my way to Kearney Country Club for the first time in 2019. Had a seventh grader who ran that fall, she had fun. Let’s go watch, I said. She jumped at a day out of school.
I remember it was chilly. We had plotted out our tracks by the second race — the start, up to the mile, over to that last hill and then a sprint to the finish. We repeated it a few times.
We came for Liam Chot, we didn’t know much else. We left with a bag full of memories.
There was the epic Ellie Dahl and Berlyn Schultz finish. The surprising Hastings wins from Chelsey Espinoza and Alayna Vargas. And, we watched you win your first state title.
So many freshmen, as we thought about that great day. If I want to do this, she thought, that’s gonna be a lot of hard work.
As she got older, she grew to admire all the “older runners”. You, Hinrichs, Ejereo, Seiler, Dahl, Green, Sievers, Arens, heck, all of those Lincoln East girls. So many more, I don’t have the space.
And that she gets to be there for a second time on Friday to compete, that’s pretty special for her (and mom and dad, too).
What did dad learn the last few years? Well, that he had to get in a better shape. But it was everything else that made us love it together.
That there were no officials getting yelled at for a wrong call, no coaches who called the wrong play. It was just you and the course, and your time spoke for itself.
We loved that the kids who run against each other care for those they race against. We loved that moms and dad from every team encourage all the runners — even the ones their kids are trying to beat.
To me, I guess there is just nothing quite like it anywhere. On Friday, I count 870 other runners who will compete — like you — one last time in 2022. They are all champions. My guess is over 4,000 started practices in August.
But, let’s be honest, Carson. Many of them are also coming to watch you. Those other runners, they admire you. They want to see your pursuit of history.
What has impressed me more than how you race, is who you are. In a world full of social media and “look at me” cross country seems to do it differently. It’s about running for something bigger than the result. Maybe that’s why we love it so much. Maybe that’s why you love it so much.
There is a video deep in the depths of YouTube of the 1982 US Open at Pebble Beach. Tom Watson ends up chasing down his hero — Jack Nicklaus — to win.
Nicklaus was near the end of his career; he’d win one more miracle major tournament in 1986 at The Masters. As Watson is finishing the great Jack Whitaker of ABC is interviewing Nicklaus in the sand by the Pacific Ocean.
Whitaker ends the interview simply. “Jack, it was a pleasure to be in your time.”
Many of us feel the same about you, Carson. It was a pleasure to be in your time.
Thanks for being a great runner but a better person and teammate. Thanks for inspiring others even if you may not think about that.
Thanks, in a world full of self-promotion, for just being you.
Finish on empty. We’ll be there to watch.