A long way to run

Categories:Giving back

"We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there..."—Jerry Reed from the album East Bound and Down

Cross country is one of our favorite high school sports. Our son, Greg, ran and lettered in cross country all four years of high school. Much of his freshman and sophomore years, he was plagued by aching knees, but he stayed with it. He stayed with it because he loved the camaraderie.

Running is hard work. Running 3.1 miles over uneven ground, up and down hills is torturous. But week after week in the fall in Kansas, high school kids travel to destinations near and far to challenge themselves and each other, support and encourage their teammates and cheer every single student from every single school across the finish line...because every single student from every single school understands how hard it is to cross that finish line, striving for a personal record.

Cross country is one of the most inspiring sports there is.

Paola High School held its invitational at Wallace Park when Greg started running cross country. His first year, little league football games were in progress at the same time the cross country kids were scheduled to run. Not only did that cause parking problems, but the cross country course also went right through the football fields. When a race would start, the football kids would have to stop playing to allow the runners to go through. OOPS!

The next year, the athletic director told the cross country coach a couple of weeks before the meet that she'd have to find another place to have the meet or cancel it. I asked Kevin whether he wanted to suggest the ranch (then just hay field and pasture) to the coach as a possible venue for the race. The coach accepted our proposal after vetting a few options.

Greg (left) and Matt Haefle run up a slight incline.

Greg (left) and Matt Haefle just past the first mile at the first meet at Stonehaven.

There followed a mad scramble to get a course ready. Kevin worked with the coach to plan the course and mow a path. We dug rocks, filled holes, hauled mulch and gravel and did what we could to make it runnable. We were frantically working up to the day of the race to get everything ready.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. It was a beautiful morning for a run. We had four races that day: Boys and girls Junior Varsity and Varsity. I don't remember which teams won. I just remember being glad we'd been able to pull it together and give the kids a place to run.

That first year was a challenge in many ways. We'd never thought of doing anything like it before, and it was a lot of work for people who had no experience doing it. We saw a lot of things we did wrong, but there were some that worked well.

That first race was in 2008. My son graduated from high school a few years back, but we continue to hold the race at the ranch every year. We've made improvements and will continue to make more as needed. We don't have to work quite as hard as we did the first few years, but there are always rocks to be removed, holes to fill and paths to be mowed.

Sometimes I wonder why we still do it. But then the day of the race comes. I see the parents cheering, the kids encouraging each other and everyone clapping for that last kid to cross the finish line.

And that makes it all worth it.

Boys near last mile of course

Sam Rourke nears the top of what has come to be known as Death Valley—a long, ever-increasing incline followed by a short, steep hill.