In late September 2015, hurricane Joaquin battered the Caribbean islands and the east coast of the United States, intensifying to a category 4 status on October 1. The Salesianum Cross-Country Invitational was scheduled for Saturday the 3, and meet organizers were pondering whether to cancel the meet.
Salesianum has a reputation. The meet’s official motto, “conquer the creek” does not quite cover it. The course is challenging, starting with switchbacks, continuing with a long hill known as “maintenance hill,” only to be followed by “phantom hill,” and a lonely stretch dubbed “death march” by the GDS team.
Ultimately, this year’s race was not canceled, and the rain and cold only added to the overall mystique of the event. Over time, GDS has taken more and more of the athletes on the team to Salesianum. In head coach Anthony Belber’s words, “It used to be that we avoided taking more novice runners because we felt they weren’t strong enough to handle the challenging course and environment. We have come to realize that it is precisely through such challenging experiences as Salesianum that our student athletes develop the resilience and confidence to be successful in the rest of their season and beyond the realm of running.”
We now deliberately build up the intimidating and daunting nature of the meet and the course beforehand, but we also remind our runners that they are ready to handle the challenges. We stress the importance of dealing with the course one aspect at a time. Rather than starting the race worrying about all that is to come, we urge the runners to concentrate only on the section they are running…to be mindful only of what they are experiencing in that moment (an uphill, downhill, flat, etc.).
As a HS learning support specialist, I understand that school can be overwhelming at times; and as an assistant cross-country coach, I see the parallels between preparing students for races like Salesianum and supporting students through their challenging schoolwork. Like the course at Salesianum, it is crucial to break down the work into manageable chunks, and to tackle them one at a time. Like so many challenges in life, as students do this, they begin to recognize that there are recovery periods and easy sections in between each of the challenges. They come to understand that they have to focus on those sections and appreciate them when they encounter them. They realize that what seemed an insurmountable mountain, becomes a series of doable undertakings.
Salesianum is a chance to teach our student athletes about themselves—their strengths and weaknesses—and to help them recognize that they are ultimately in control.
My advice to students and athletes: Don’t be overwhelmed by a race, a course, schoolwork or other challenges thrown at you. Rather, understand what lies ahead of you and let us help you find a manageable way to navigate those challenges.