I can’t believe how fast the summer has been flying by and with that, means kids are soon heading back to school. In Minnesota, most high school practices will begin next Monday and all over the country college programs will soon begin their fall training. I feel fortunate enough to have been a part of school athletics from middle school through college. Being in sports helped me stay active, forced me to set goals, introduced me to new friends and most importantly, taught me what it meant to be a part of a TEAM!
Although most of my athletic career has been in “individual sports,” (with the exception of soccer, which I played through my freshman year of high school) I think that no matter what type of sport, club or organization you are involved in, it will teach you about teamwork. When I was at Wayzata High School, I was a part of a cross country running team that was quite unique. The team had gone through a few “rough years," and had not qualified for the MN State Meet for a while, only occasionally sending individuals. I had been on the running team in middle school and found success and joy in this. At the time, I competed against other middle schools in the district and there were a group of us that constantly went back and forth in races. When we finally came together and joined the high school team as freshmen, I think my head coach, Dave Emmans, saw something special in my class of girls. He, along with our incredible assistant coach at the time, Addy Hallen, watched us complete workouts and time trials and recognized something pretty powerful. We did not approach these runs or intervals as individuals trying to hit certain times. We traveled as one unit and worked together to get each other through long runs or 800-meter repeats. We took turns leading and following. We challenged each other during the end of each workout and pushed each other to be better athletes, but we also cracked jokes during a tempo run, sang out loud during our warm ups and high-fived each other after every single training session.
My freshman year, the team qualified for the MN State Cross Country Meet and over the next few years we continued to find success, eventually bringing home two State Titles. By my Junior year, the team had an epic performance at regionals, qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals (NXN). (My junior year of high school, 2012, I ran at the state meet but decided not to attend regionals or nationals because I wanted to transition my efforts into the ski season).
During these years, I was able to transfer what I learned from my running team into the other teams that I was a part of; skiing, track and field, school projects, student council, etc. I learned how to lead others when I knew that I could be helpful and how to follow them when I knew they could teach me something new. I figured out how to set individual goals as well as team goals and how to make a plan to achieve them.
Going into my senior year of high school there were whispers around the running community that our team had a shot at placing at NXN that fall. Although there were a few new faces on our team since my freshman year, my class had undeniable depth and we still worked together in anything that we did. We were soon referred to as “the pack” that would find each other in races, run together and swallow up girls running solo. We knew who started fast and would then settle, or who had the best kick to hang onto at the end. We created code words for when we knew it was time to take it to the next gear and race even harder. We charged through the cross-country season with full force, working together the entire time. I was personally concerned about going to NXN myself as the race was in early December and I also had goals for the ski season that was getting started around that time. However, I knew how much potential my running team had and was willing to sacrifice some of my skiing for the sake of that team.
We arrived in Portland, OR knowing that we had a chance of running well, but also knowing that we had already found so much in our team. We had become best friends, we found humor in the smallest things while running, we loved each other’s company (and knew how to really annoy one another). We wanted to give it our best, but we also wanted to have fun with the team we had been a part of for four years. Over half of our team was graduating that year and going on to compete in college, but we knew that this squad had something special with the way we worked together.
Most of the race at NXN was a blur. It was one of the largest races any of us had been a part of and we found it difficult to find each other in the mass of girls running. But we did! I remember hearing Coach Hallen with about 1 kilometer to go in the race. She yelled that our top runner was in the top 10 and that it was Go Time. At this point in my life I had already committed to skiing at the University of Vermont the following year and thought that this was going to be my last cross-country running race ever. After hearing my coach in the race, I put in a surge and my two teammates followed with. In the last 800 meters we must have passed around 20 girls, improving our team score immensely. We crossed the finish line knowing that it had been a good day and that we had done everything we could to work as a team and accomplish what we could. I was proud of my team for fighting so hard in the last bit of the race and we were happy to be at the finish line together. We smiled and hugged, found our parents, found our coaches, and waited for the results to come in.
We knew that our biggest competitors would be a team from New York, Fayetville-Manlius. They had won NXN the previous seven years in a row and had been dominating all year. But I will never forget the moment I looked up to the score board to see 1. Wayzata.
We had worked for four years as a team to achieve this and were ecstatic with joy.
This sense of teamwork has affected me in every aspect of life since. It helped me work together on a high school ski team that brought home numerous MN State Titles as well as being nominated the top girls high school team in the country at Junior Nationals. This teamwork prepared me for college, where everything is elevated to the next level. It taught me how to work with other people on projects in school and in extracurriculars and I am sure that I will benefit from it in the future when I decide to join the "normal workforce." Teamwork is everywhere in our world and I think that learning this at such a young age is of extreme value.
The Minnesota State High School League presents the perfect opportunity for kids to join a team, learn these lessons, and set themselves up for success, all while staying active, meeting new friends and working together. I fear that too many juniors in the ski world have put too much pressure on themselves and are viewing skiing as only an individual sport. It doesn't have to be! Personally, I found value and growth through my high school teams and by prioritizing teamwork, I gained so much more than I ever could have by flying solo.