Brotherhood and Breakthroughs
I’m sitting in a delivery room and have been here since 6:00am this morning, so I’ve had a minute to put some thoughts on paper in between my beautiful wife’s contractions.
In high school, I often wondered if other teams were made up like my own team. Did they do the same workouts, have the same inside stories, laugh at the same jokes, talk about the same stuff on recovery days, and play football with a corn husk that was found in a nearby field? Did other teams have the same bond, trust, problems, and questions that we had or had struggled with? There had to be others like us, right?
Runners are stupid. Well, that is what I thought when I was younger. Who would run just for fun? Turns out, I was sort of right. None of us run purely for fun. Running is actually so much more. For me, running built a brotherhood and that brotherhood is why I ran then and why I still run today.
When I attended the University of the Cumberlands, these same questions arose. Is this team like all college teams? Do Division I programs act, talk, train, and go on from day to day the same way NAIA programs do? When I started at the University of Kentucky, and hung out with the team, I quickly gathered from experience that they were indeed just like the team at Cumberlands - same jokes, same training, same mindset, and same attitude. They just worked with a bigger budget and winning mattered a lot more to the school. When all was said and done though, there was a bond -a brotherhood- (and I assume, a sisterhood) that one had with his or her fellow teammates. This bond was what made you show up and push harder, to work through pain, sweat, and sometimes, tears. Yes, there were goals to win; conference, nationals, achieving all-region or all-American, but that bond was really what pushed us to keep running.
Even if you hated another guy, you had respect for him after a workout. A simple word could be uttered and half the team knew what you meant. A movie quote could keep you laughing through a 15 mile long run with the guys. It is this bond that makes what we do not so crazy after all.
Over the years I’ve quoted many things that have never made pages of books or articles. But there is one line that I’ll post, usually once a year on Facebook or whatever, and I always get a ton of responses. “There’s nothing like doing mile repeats to help one gain respect for another man.” You may not know the other guy, or even like him, or he may already be your best friend, but through workouts, long runs and runs in the coldest of winters, the wettest of rains and under the blazing summer sun, and after core, you gain respect for your fellow brothers and sisters. You gain a sense of understanding and of appreciation for those around you. When you see those guys in class the next day, or ten years after your last meet, you remember what that other person has been through, sacrificed, and worked for. It’s a bond you can’t really put into words, unless you’ve lived it.
At Eastern, I’m blessed to be the head coach of our boys’ cross country team and I work with an unbelievable group of young men. I knew coming into this season we were going to have a pretty special group, not in the form of talent, but in sheer energy and vibe. What has transpired since the dead period has been beyond anything I could have imagined! Daily, these guys put forth work and create bonds between one another that I have never seen in all my years of running and coaching. Movie quotes take on larger than life meanings, ideas and racing plans go beyond just a Saturday, a sense of respect is felt from the fastest guys to the slowest man on the team. Senior leaders attend races and cheer on team members that are way faster than they themselves are. Slower guys want to know how varsity competed at other races. Skill levels don’t matter, a bond has been set. Freshmen easily laugh and joke with some of the more talented seniors because they are ‘brothers’.
So, why do I bring this up? Because I want you to recognize and cherish these bonds you’ve certainly formed within your own teams. Cherish the excitement and joy of winning, of achieving greatness and goals, together. Remember how you’ve all drawn fuel from frustrations and heartaches. Keep close the little side conversations, the inside team jokes and one-liners, you will remember these for the rest of your lives. Cherish that respect you’ve earned from your brothers and sisters and the respect they have earned from you. It is an unspoken gift that you have given and gained - for the good of the team!
They say high school and college are the best times of your life. I say, “The best times of your life will be the times you spend running side by side with a teammate – a brother and/or a sister - when not a word is shared, but all is understood.” And if you’re lucky enough, like I am, it will continue for the rest of your life.