Monday, September 23, 2013

The Thrill of Defeat

Who wears short-shorts?
Cross country my Senior year
By Kevin Hunsperger 
@kevinhunsperger & @my123cents on Twitter

When I was in high school I ran cross country, however run is the operative word here.  I more accurately jogged and walked cross country.  While I wasn't the worst on the team, I was definitely at the bottom of the pack.  It's weird to me more than 20 years later I run nearly every day and actually run the whole time.

Probably my biggest moment of glory came my sophomore year.  Each September we traveled two-and-a-half hours south to Sikeston High School in southeast Missouri for their invitational race.  This race was a unique one in that there were four races, one for each grade level.  It wasn't the usual Freshmen, JV, and Varsity races.  Instead, freshmen raced freshmen, sophomores raced sophomores, and so on.  The other cool part of this race was instead of medals or ribbons, the top five runners on the school's team won a trophy.

That year the sophomore class was overflowing with runners.  I think there was probably ten or more on the squad.  So if our team won, the top five would get a trophy.  The junior team that year only had four runners.  Before the meet started and while we were all doing our warmups, I remember Coach Nelson calling me over to him.  He said "Hunsperger, you're running with the juniors today."  At first I thought it was a joke, then Coach explained to me that I was guaranteed a trophy.  It made sense to run one of the weaker sophomores, because the four juniors would place at the top.  Our cumulative five runner score would still be better than any other team.

Part of the sophomore team (1988)
When some of the other guys on my team and their parents heard the news, I remember them asking in disbelief, "Why him?"  I had to explain, it's not because Coach thought I was good.  It was to solely a move to round out the team and quite honestly give a guy who was never going to win a medal or a trophy one shot at it.  I think some were still upset by the decision, but I couldn't worry about that.  I had a race to run.

I was always nervous before meets anyway, but this event made me even more so.  I felt like I had something to prove, fhat I deserved to be with the older group.  I told myself I would not finish last.  I remember running the course (around 3 miles) and ending up neck and neck with a guy who talked to me for what seemed like an eternity. He told me he hated running and was only doing it because his basketball coach thought it would help with his conditioning.  I finally realized that he and I were the last two runners in this race and broke off into a sprint.  Sadly though, he caught me and crossed the finish line seconds before me.  I was last.  It's the one and only time I finished dead last.

It's not much, but it's mine
But just like Coach Nelson predicted, Sean, Clint, Doug, and Tim finished first through fourth, and even with Hunsperger bringing up the rear, we all got our trophy that day.  I still have it.  It's a reminder of that one shot at glory I had during high school athletics.  It also reminds me of the kindness Coach had to give me that opportunity.  It was 25 years ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.  Coach, if you happen to read this, thank you.  It meant the world to me then and still does today.

If you're reading this blog other than on the My 1-2-3 Cents page, click here for a look at other blogs by Kevin.

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