Updated: One of my old teammates read this and said I got some of the story wrong - so, I modified a few things from the original. What can I say - it's been over 15 years.
In honor of the National Cross-Country race this weekend in Derwood, MD - I thought I'd write a story of another important XC race in my life. It was the week of the Michigan state XC meet my junior year of High School (yes, jerks, that was a long time ago). Our team had won every meet that fall and my buddy Todd Snyder had won every individual title. But, this was different, it was the state meet and we were supposed to win - the toughest kind of pressure.
Our coach, Don Sleeman had been at Ann Arbor Pioneer for ~25 years at that point - in fact, he's still coaching after 40 years and his team won a state championship just last year. Sleeman was a sargent in the Air Force before he started teaching and coaching. His main motto was "Pain purifies." Of course the guys who had come before us said that he had "softened" over the years - but, he was still pretty intimidating at the time.
The first two weeks of practice in August were always hell - no one pushed their team harder. But, he knew when to back off - and feeling the pressure that we were all feeling he decided that we needed some humor in our lives. After our normal stretching routine early in the week - he said he had a newspaper column to read to us. This was normal for him - there were copies of newspaper articles on running pasted all over the walls of his office. But, this article was different - first of all it was about dogs - but, more generally it was about how the right amount of motivation and focus we can overcome any obstacle.
The article was a column by the Chicago Tribune's Mike Royko (I actually found it on that internet thing). It was about a male Chihuahua in Florida that had been sauntering around the neighborhood, when suddenly an urge overcame him as he saw the neighborhood female Rottweiler. The urge proved much stronger than any fear that pup must have had regarding their size differential, and believe it or not he successfully impregnated the Rottweiler. As with all great American stories - we know this is not urban legend because a lawsuit was involved - the owner of the Rottweiler sued the owner of the Chihuahua. Coach Sleeman said that the most important thing for us to remember that coming Saturday was to "be the Chihuahua." Looking back, I think he might have feared that we might become the Rottweiler.
That Saturday we toed the line on a chilly Michigan November day - and in the quiet stillness before the gun fired Coach Sleeman yelled out - "BE THE CHIHUAHUA!" Of course in the first 10 meters we almost fell over ourselves laughing - but any tension we had in our bodies was gone. We went on to win the State Championship. We won by such a wide margin that we ended up being ranked 3rd in the country by USA Today.
So, on Saturday, as we toe the line against the Rottweilers of Ritz, Meb, Fam and others - let's remember to be the Chihuahua!
Ryan - please don't take that literally.