Nome runners score big win in Kotzebue
By Jeff Collins/Nanook XC Coach
The pursuit of perfection. The definition of perfection is subjective but when it is coupled with a desired outcome, the definition of perfection becomes clear. In athletics, when an individual attains perfection, the performance is art. When a team pursues perfection with a single intent and focus, it is a window into what can be achieved with a collective mindset and it fills onlookers with excitement and hope. On Saturday September 18, for the first time since 2009, the Nanook Boys Cross Country team attained perfection, taking the first five places in the varsity race.
Cross Country scoring is based on a finisher’s place. First place receives one point, second gets two points, third place is assigned three points and so on. Team scoring is based on the top five runners. Among cross country athletes, the perfect score is the goal. It is the pinnacle of team performance. It requires all the pieces to come together. Each runner must be on the top of their game, without injury or sickness, hydration and nutrition at optimal levels. Weeks of eliminating variables by each athlete to have all those pieces come together. If it is to be repeated, it has to be about the process, not the product.
So, this story begins at the beginning of the process. Two years ago it became apparent that there was considerable raw running talent coming up the ranks from middle school to high school. Young runners were learning to hone their growing bodies into machines and convince their minds of their true potential. They ran mile after mile to do this. In rain, wind and snow. They not only became physically fit but they became mentally strong. And they bonded. The completion of each five-thousand-meter course plunging them further into the fraternity of the long distance runner. As their coach, I went through this, as have many others across the world and through a millenia. All of us learning and coming to understanding the credo so well coined by John L. Parker, former runner and author of Once a Runner, “You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
The pursuit of perfection.
The Nanook boys obtained first place through fifth place in a single race. The total score was unbeatable: 15 points. The Nome-Beltz Nanook Boys accomplished this feat for the first time since 2009. Our boys took it one step further. They took sixth, too, placing six runners past the finish line before any team could get their first runner across. This is what happens when all the pieces come together, when each athlete is more concerned about not letting each other down than they are about their own performance. It wasn’t about “me”, it was about “us.”
They echoed this as they celebrated together.
“We did awesome!”
“Do you know what we have done?!”
“We just got a perfect score!”
The results spoke for themselves at the Kotzebue Invitational on a rainy and cold Saturday morning in September as the Lady Nanooks took to the line for the start of their race. They knew the plan. Both the boys and girls team had prepared for this race for weeks over numerous difficult workouts. The Plan: as the gun goes off, so do we. We go out hard and we don’t look back. We will lead, we will be aggressive, we will work as one. The girls set the tone for the day with AwaLuk Nichols, Della Medlin and Natallie Tobuk taking first, second and fourth place. They executed the plan perfectly and their times and placing showed this. They got the first look at the product of a weeks-long process. AwaLuk took the lead from the start and challenged any takers to try to take that from her. Della and Natallie worked as one with a single focus to overtake their competition with frightening patience and precision. With their performance, they sent a message to other Big West runners (Kotzebue, Barrow, and Bethel).
The boys toed the line next. With eyes up and stout hearts they also took the lead from the start setting a relentless pace that would prove not be overtaken. After three kilometers, the Nanook boys had five runners in front of Kotzebue’s first. As they moved to the finish, Colin McFarland overtook Kotzebue’s first runner at the line to finish it off. The boys were led by sophomore Son Erikson. Son is the only boy with Alaska State Meet experience and his collected demeanor showed this. Orson Hoogendorn and Finn Gregg followed him up with a two and three placing. These two are hungry and, as freshmen, perform well beyond their experience. Hayden Leeper followed them in with literally the race of his life. All this could not have been accomplished without the leadership of our two senior boys, Paris Hebel and Colin McFarland. Paris was tasked with bringing up the rear of the pack to ensure that Nome got out from the starting line aggressively. Paris has been improving weekly. His discipline and ability to persevere, mentally and physically, through the most difficult of situations pinned him for the task. Colin McFarland rounded out the top six for the team and the race.
Every team has its success because they buy into the process together. Every single member of that team plays a part. Our team is no different. Every single one of the members of the Nome-Beltz cross country team contributed to this success. They showed up through the weeks of rain, they held each other accountable, through dry-heave-inducing workouts, and then came back for more. Our team trains as one, from sixth grade to 12th grade; boys and girls. They run the same routes, they have the same expectations. They are bonded, they are one. And from my perspective, this very young team has dynasty potential. For now and always though, we will stick to the process. It will change them, it will make them champions, it will drive their potential in the pursuit of perfection.