Justin Ricklefs


How Cross Country Mocked Me

It was a horrible assumption, one I freely admit I was wrong about.

Way back in my high school days, I thought Cross Country was for the kids who couldn’t play football, soccer, volleyball or some other “real” sport.

In related news, you can look up the definition of a tool from 1999 and my picture would be there.

As life often does, it had the last laugh as it watched me go all in this year on the sport I once thought I was too cool to watch.

Around here, kids can run Cross Country as a school sport in 7th grade. They can compete in other sports in 8th grade so Cross Country gets a head start.

So our oldest got into XC her 7th grade year, ran again her 8th grade season and then went out for the high school team this year, her freshman season.

I thought she was joking when she said she had a 6am run the first Monday of summer, 3 months before her season started.

She wasn’t.

I thought she was joking when she said she had a 6am run the first Saturday of summer, after 5 straight days of running already.

She wasn’t.

I thought she was joking when she said this rhythm wouldn’t just be a week or two but all summer.

She wasn’t.

By the time August 1 came around, she had logged over 250 miles. On her legs. I don’t even like to drive that far, let alone run it.

I thought she was joking when she said she made Varsity as a freshman.

She wasn’t.

If you’re a parent of a high school XC-er, then none of this will come as a surprise to you.

But holy smokes, what a sport.

The commitment, dedication, camaraderie, support, endurance, grit, mental challenge, physical challenge, time, teamwork, energy, exhaustion and excitement is unlike anything I’ve witnessed.

Running a 5k on a Saturday with some buddies is one thing.

Running a 5k in the mud, up hills, with 200 other runners, with one shoe because one of yours fell off in the first half mile?

Yeah, that’s another thing altogether.

Most sports are fairly predictable.

One team and their coaches and supporters cheering loud for them.

The other team’s coaches and supporters cheering loud for them.

Each rooting for the other to lose and their team to win.

Some grown adults getting mad at each other over a kid’s sport (I’ve done this plenty).

But a cross country meet?

A celebration of effort and hard work, no matter the team.

Of course, Liberty wants to beat Liberty North. And vice versa.

Of course, Blue Springs wants to beat Blue Springs South. And vice versa.

But watch a parent from Liberty North cheer on a Liberty girl who is struggling to get up the last hill.

Watch a Varsity boys team sprint around the course after they’ve already run 3.2 miles to cheer on the JV girls.

Watch a friend from another school run up to a friend from an opposing school at the finish line and pick her up after she collapsed from exhaustion.

Watch as a runner pukes at the finish line then gets helped to the water by a coach from a different team.


Watch out of shape dads like me race from spot to spot like a lunatic to yell encouragement at not just your own daughter but other daughters who probably have no idea who you are.

Watch the entire course cheer on the very last C team boy who has a physical disability, but he’s determined to finish the race.

Basketball is a big deal in our home so we’re OK with the winter, but I can’t wait until that first week of summer.

When it’s 6am and I’m that much closer to watching my first Cross Country meet of the season.

And if you’re still in the “Cross Country is for those kids” boat, I have room in the truck for you to come along to witness it yourself.






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