By Keighly Bradbrook, a senior team captain on the St. Mary's College of Maryland women's cross country team
"Are you crazy, do you really enjoy that?" This is possibly the greatest question to be asked when you tell a person that you are a runner. Although, there have been times when I have asked myself the very same question.
Truthfully, it is a hard question to answer on more than a surface level. How do I explain to someone what being an athlete means to me, because really isn't that what they are asking; they are asking why I do it. The truth, I think is that it is a little different for everyone, and yet the same for so many of us.
I started running in high school during the spring of my junior year to stay in shape and give myself an edge in soccer for my upcoming senior season. Here I am almost 5-6 years later, running; there was just something about the sport that I couldn't leave behind once I'd tried it.
Cross country is unique in that, while it is a team sport, it is also individualistic. The individualistic nature of cross country lies in the fact that, at the end of the day, at the end of a race, you ran a given time, a given pace, and that was determined by no one else but yourself. This is a powerfully frightening and motivating notion-the idea that you, alone, hold the key to your success on race day, in life. There have been races where I have gotten on the line, the gun has gone off, and I have put to work every mile I ran in practice leading up to that day. There have also been days, where my mind and my excuses got the best of me and I just did not perform to the level that I had performed to in previous practices and races. I will never forget, in high school, there was a race that I was incredibly nervous for, I couldn't get past my nervousness, and I knew as soon as I finished the race, that I did poorly. I walked up to my coach and I told him that I didn't know what happened and that I was really frustrated with myself. He looked at me, pointed his finger into my chest and told me in no uncertain terms that I was what happened, and that, yes, I should be frustrated. There was no coddling. The next race, I was determined to do better, and I did. There are bad days, we all have them, but throughout my races and workouts I have learned to get past them and to have confidence in what I know I can do. There is nothing more powerful than what you set your mind to and there is also nothing more dangerous than your own mind.
Your mind is powerful, but what being a D-III athlete has taught me, is that your teammates are just as powerful. My teammates will never truly know the extent to which they have helped me through some really rough times in my life. No matter what has been going on, on or off the field, they have held me accountable, pushed me, and been there when I tried, but despite my best efforts, failed. There have been countless workouts in the pouring rain, scorching hot sun, and early morning, when I simply have not wanted to run the six-mile repeats or the nine-mile time trial. I go to practice thinking that I will just coast that day, and 'take it easy.' Then, my teammate will walk up to me on the line, just before the workout begins, and tap me on the back and say something as simple as "let's do it," and before I can blink, he or she will be 100m ahead of me, not looking back, but subtly suggesting and confidently believing that I am right behind him/her. It's these simple gestures of confidence in your teammates that, for me, have never failed to push me.
I thank my teammates and my coaches for always believing in me, what I didn't always believe in myself. Together, and thanks to them, I have the memory of watching the men's team win their first-ever race two years ago followed by leading the women's team, as captain, in my senior year, to their first win. The cross country team has come so far from being a new team with only, maybe, ten people not too long ago, to looking at putting multiple runners in the top-15 at champs, winning races, and showing the rest of the conference what it means to be a Seahawk.