November 05, 2014

My Championship Experience – 2014 Women’s Cross Country Edition

My Championship Experience is a diary blog written by Summit League student-athletes detailing their experiences at each of the 19 Championships.

Western Illinois senior Lydia Smith writes about her experience at the 2014 Summit League Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships:

Thursday, October 30th 

6:00 a.m.
As usual being an athlete means an early morning workout before traveling! I woke up ready to tackle this run and get ready to take off to North Dakota. All the girls came in groggy to Western Hall for the run; needless to say they were not as enthusiastic to be up as I was. 

9:00 a.m.
It’s finally time to depart for North Dakota!! Being a small team we only took six girls to the league race. We were all getting the vans loaded, when the ladies decided to pull out a present and presented it to me. It was my senior conference gift! I was floored for them thinking of me and honored to be blessed with an amazing team, so naturally I cried the whole time opening it. I knew this was going to be an emotional weekend as my final cross country season comes to an end, but my lovely teammates decided the tears should start early. Once I put myself together and we finished packing up the two vans we departed for the grueling twelve hour trip. We didn’t get ten minutes down the road when Alyssa (Johnson) figured out she forgot her phone at home! Hopefully this wasn’t an omen of how the trip was going to go!!

6:00 p.m.
We had all been sleeping off and on so the van was pretty quiet, all of us were trying to catch up on sleep and homework. Everyone knows all too well that any free time a student-athlete can get is nap time!! We stopped at this small diner in Minnesota, like most times when a team walks into the door they give us the “you got to be kidding me” look. Once everyone ate, it was time to hit the road for the final leg of the trip.

11:30 p.m.
Finally arrived!! I was so excited to be here, after long trips all I want to do is sleep!! I get paired up with one of the little munchkins Kelsey (Capovilla) and we made our way into our room, settled in and passed out.

Friday, October 31st (HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!)

8:00 a.m.
Time to start the new day with a wonderful breakfast provided by the generous Best Western Double Wood Inn! Breakfast is my favorite time of day, you get to stuff your face and it doesn’t matter because its breakfast and you need the calories. Plus, you can come to breakfast with your hair looking like Cruella de Vil with last night’s makeup and no one will care, because it is just way to early. Everyone has been really chatty and talking about the upcoming events for the day. We all decided to study then do a little shopping. Of course the girls’ team came back with bags full of cute dresses, and sweaters. And the best buy of the day was all six of us bought matching tanks that say “I HATE RUNNING”, as we all know it is a love/hate relationship.

3:00 p.m.
I was ready to get out on the course to start pre-meet. We had to wait till three to get onto the course due to frost on the golf course. It was a gorgeous day out besides the cold, and while running I was trying to envision what my mind set should be during the race. At which points should I stride out, stay conserved, where should I stay mentally tough. So much goes through your head trying to prepare for a 6k race. And I was determined to stay positive throughout the pre-meet. It helped to have my teammates by my side. We were all talking and laughing, it helps to take the edge off. When everyone felt good and finished we headed out to get ready for the banquet. In the girls van we were singing and yelling at the top of our lungs to the radio. Jessica (Burke) was doing her classic impersonations of the staff and coaches that have everyone rolling. Not to mention her laugh is probably funnier than all of her jokes combined. I can honestly say there is never a dull moment with us.

6:00 p.m.
The banquet has always been my favorite part of the conference trips. I love seeing everyone from the different teams and my own dress up and not look like they just came out of a Nike or Adidas catalog with all their running gear. You get to really see everyone’s personal style, where some of us are conservative, others flashy, some punk rock and others girly. The boys were all in their sophisticated get up suits as usual looking super classy. Personally I am the “wear the most sparkly dress I can find and leave a trail of gold sparkles wherever I go type of style”. No matter what everyone looked fabulous!! Dinner was delicious as always, pasta and carb-loading at its finest. Once dinner was over we all took pictures and headed back to the hotel. When we got back to the hotel we waited till our team meeting and the girls, of course, had to take more pictures than our iPhone memories could possibly hold!! 

9:00 p.m.
I knew going into this last meeting I was going to get asked to say some words of wisdom. Being the only girl senior it was all on my shoulders to lift up my fellow teammates. As I sat there listening to the coaches give us our instructions all I could think was how this was it, no more fun or goofing off, it’s time to make it or break it. When all the instructions were given our head coach went into our motivational speeches. I swear my heart was aching and completely full of sorrow because in less than 24 hours it will all be over. Coach Stevenson nailed the speech with saying how we want to be remembered, do we want to be remembered as the family who never shows up to perform? Or the family who looks strong and is about to show the conference that we are moving up! My favorite quote I took from his speech was “You may win an individual championship but the team can still get last. What legacy are we about to leave?!” Then Mark (Holt) the boys’ captain and senior went saying how grateful he is to be a part of this team; how we are about to build and make one of the biggest changes in the upcoming years. At this point I’ve completely lost it. I’m crying like a crazed white girl who just spilt her Starbucks coffee! It’s my turn to go and I’m at a loss for words. How do I trail those two uplifting speeches! I start off with how blessed I am to be here and be a part of a group that has always been my home away from home, everyone there has truly touched my heart and changed my life for the better in so many ways. And all I could do was thank every last person that was racing with me tomorrow and sitting in that circle with us. Afterwards we all went to bed and patiently awaited the race.

Photo by Tyler Ingham
Saturday, November 1st (RACE DAY!!!!)

11:00 a.m.
Shake out was complete, breakfast has been demolished, and uniforms were on!!! I’ve got my hair in a braid, with my makeup done up, and a Leatherneck cheek sticker to top off the uniform! LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD, PLAY GOOD!! It was race day and I couldn’t be more excited!! After getting lost and going to the wrong golf course, we finally made it out there. I had just about every amount of clothing I owned on over my uniform considering the wind was piercing through everything I was wearing. No amount of clothes seemed to keep me warm. With warm ups finished the girls and I were in our final huddle before going back to the line to start the race. I told the girls how honored I am to be racing with them, I will never forget this day for the rest of my life. I get to race with my sisters and I couldn’t ask for anything more! We broke as a family and do our final stride to the line. Our sweats were off and it was go time!

12:00 p.m.
The gun went off! My feet took off without me even having to think about it. Arms swinging, my long hair hitting me in the face from the forceful winds, and my legs racing down the course!! ONE TWO ONE TWO ONE TWO!! You wouldn’t think that all these innocent looking girls can be vicious but we are all elbowing and scratching to get up to the leaders. (Never underestimate the will of a cross country girl to win) After a few minutes everyone was in there rhythm, passing girls and getting passed, no one is ever safe. The race is completely unpredictable!! I kept trying to barrel through! Telling myself to stay with every pack that is in front of me and match their rhythm, to power up every hill, and push through the straight-aways. By the time I hit the 3k I could feel myself getting tired, with the wind hitting you like a brick wall and no one close enough to easily catch in front I felt my motivation dwindle. But then I saw one of my teammates Madison (Lefler) coming around the turn. It reminded me that I’m not only running for myself I’m running for her. She could have every excuse to quit but she doesn’t she is one of the strongest girls I’ve ever had the pleasure knowing, and there she was fighting for her team and for me. It gave me a new perspective and I started fighting harder. Fighting for my team and fighting for myself. The finish was in sight and I crossed it with a wave of relief. I just finished my last cross country championship. I waited for my whole team to cross the finish line before starting the water works (I’m one of those girls who will cry at anything and everything). I am so proud of my team, everyone stuck it out and did what they had to, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The boys were up next and they did just the same, everyone was strong and looked amazing as they were crossing the finish line. When everything was all said and done, we got as many layers of clothes on as possible, watched the awards, and headed to the vans to start the 12 hour journey home.

4:00 p.m.
The journey seemed slow to start and everyone was pretty restless. Naturally, the girls van was singing and dancing to “shake it off” by Taylor Swift, (pretty sure we had cabin fever at this point). We all wanted to get out of the vans and just be home! Everywhere we stopped to eat we took it to go to save time, and of course Kelsey spilled her drink in the seat and it ran down all over Jaclyn's (Finney) feet. GET US HOME PLEASE!!!

1:30 a.m.
WE MADE IT!! The trip was over and I have never been so relieved to be back at WIU, the Leatherneck Country! My home where everything is bleeding purple and gold! It has been a whirlwind of a trip but it will be a trip I will never forget!

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me through my career as a Leatherneck. I want to especially thank my dad (Rick Smith) who never misses a race and is my biggest cheerleader, my little sister (Emelia) who teaches me to be strong and to never give up, and to my grandparents who are always there to pick me up when I fall. To my coaches who have helped build me into the strong athlete I am today, to the academic department for helping me succeed in the classroom, and to my teammates who push me day in and day out and are there to help make the bad times more tolerable. Thank you to the entire WIU athletics department and Summit League for making this weekend and my career here the most memorable time of my life. I will miss everything about this sport and the mental struggle that comes with the benefit of overcoming the obstacles.

My whole time here at WIU I have been asked “what does it mean to be a leatherneck?” I simply say this “It means being part of a family” A family of determination, a family of strength, a family of hope, a family of love, a family of one!  Leatherneck athletics is my family and I am blessed to be a part of it!


Lydia Smith

Don’t forget to check out the next edition of My Championship Experience as it follows the Women’s Soccer Championship, Nov. 6/8 and throughout the 2014-15 season for coverage at each of The Summit League Championships.

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