Being a member of the cross-country team provides more than a good run

In my six years of cross-country, I have raced nearly 100 times — yet I am no natural athlete. At heart, I am a girl who buys racing gear at Goodwill, who flinches at Frisbees, whose knees are scarred from various attempts at hurdles. But from my first day of cross-country practice, I found a team that wanted me. My team smiled at my tendency to trip, accepted me at face value and never let me go.

This past summer, I raced for the third time in Portland to Coast High School Relay Challenge, which is part of the biggest running relay in the world: Hood to Coast. Twenty-three of my teammates and I traversed more than 120 miles in frigid air, our legs numb as we careened down country roads through midnight and into the morning. Running was not simply a way to traverse from point A to B — it became a means of communication, a way to feel connected and alive. During my 1 a.m. leg, I ran beneath stars. My legs moved on impulse — mechanically, almost magnetically. When floodlights hit me from behind I heard my team cheering from the windows of the van: “About 1.2 miles to go! We’re in the lead!” — and I could not have felt happier.

The summer after my sophomore year, my team raced at the Trask Mountain Assault. As the “toughest cross-country course in the nation,” the battle included 96 degree heat, rivers, hills, hornets and mud. Located in the Coastal Range foothills, the course also featured “the Assault,” a half-mile hill stretching skyward, baked by the sun. The course tested mental strength; it was a way to stretch beyond our perceived limits. And although we raced towards different goals, we supported each other for the same reason: We were part of a Pacer family.

The summer before Trask (three years ago), my team decided to attend Steens Mountain Running Camp — a week in Eastern Oregon where we would train for the upcoming season. At Steens, we woke to the sun painting shadows on a remote canyon. Fog backed away from the ground and the mornings were cold. I remember laughing with my teammates as we sacrificed our breakfast to stay warm, holding pancakes between our palms. At the precipice of the world, sagebrush and redtail hawks flanked the hills. Lightning-struck trees cut the sky like severed arrows. We ran like a wolf pack, covering 30 miles of the canyon without a map, some of us earning barbed-wire scars along the way. The camp was difficult. I covered more mileage in that week than I thought possible, and without the smiles and encouragement from my friends perhaps I would not have found success.

Now in my final year of Pacer cross-country, I look back and connect these memories, realizing the unbroken theme: Cross-country has given me a taste for life, and an idea for how to live it. It has taught me what it means to be part of a team.

I am thankful for the Saturdays spent at Tryon Creek or Mary S. Young, where 40 or more runners gather together to train and enjoy fall. On those crisp mornings, there remains no better inspiration than hearing the advice from a devoted coach or watching a teammate speed through the sun-shadowed trails. For if our lives consisted solely of start and finish lines, we would be there cheering for each other at every corner.

Celeste Nahas is a senior at Lakeridge High School and writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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