Editor’s Column: Cross-Country Compulsion



Ah, Thanksgiving! That blessed time of the year when binge eating is celebrated, Christmas music returns to the radio (albeit a bit later than at the Jug, which definitely started playing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in late August) and we get a break from school.

People celebrate the holidays in different ways, I guess, but at my house, we’re big on our holiday traditions. Seriously. One year, my sisters and I randomly decided to make up a dance to “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and we showed it to my grandmother. For the next ten years – until I graduated high school, we had to choreograph a “Christmas dance”  for my Nana.

I was therefore shocked when my mom informed me on Tuesday that we weren’t making the trek down to my aunt and uncle’s house as we’ve done for the past eight Thanksgivings. The reasoning behind this? Apparently, my younger sister had a cross-country meet six hours away the day after Thanksgiving.

Okay, first of all, who schedules a cross-country meet the day after the national holiday of overeating? And secondly, who is motivated enough to attend a cross-country meet six hours away after they’ve stuffed themselves silly?

According to my mother, the answer to the first question was irrelevant and the answer to the second was, unfortunately, my sister. But I suppose I should try to explain my personal beef with the sport a bit better.

My youngest sister, a high school junior, switched from playing soccer to running cross-country this year. Cool, right? Yeah…that’s what I thought, too. I was supportive at first when she would call me at school to talk about her anxiety about racing, and we even laughed about her teammates’ obsessions with running and not putting on any extra pounds because it would “slow them down.”

Gradually, though, I lost her. I should’ve known this was coming when she started saying things like “You don’t understand. Running feels so good!” and when she began refusing to talk to me on the phone because she was too nervous for the meet that was still five days away. In fact, the only time she would talk to me was after her race, telling me her finishing time, as well as pretty much every other participants’. I’d mumble my “mmm-hmms” and say “That’s awesome!” a few hundred times, but honestly, I didn’t (and still don’t) have a clue what those numbers meant.

I mean, I was happy for her, and I told my parents that. The thing was, they slowly got caught up in it too. Maybe it was due to the fact that my sister was now the only child at home, or maybe it was a result of the all-consuming nature of cross-country, but starting in mid-September, anytime that I called home, within approximately 32.4 seconds, we somehow ended up talking about cross-country and my sister’s time and her team and her muscle aches and her “Endurox,” whatever the heck that was.

In late October, I caught the dreaded swine flu. My mother’s response: “Run it off. That’s what Emma did.” I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t even get out of bed, but it was no use. At this point, I was really growing concerned. What had happened to my family? My school e-mail was clogged with pictures of my twig of a sister running in nothing more than her “spankies” and a little tank top while it was snowing. She looked like she was in agony. She even admitted it over the phone! Unfortunately, before I could ask her why she chose to do a sport that caused her physical pain, she hung up to go for another run.

After all that I’d heard over the phone, I was a bit afraid of what I’d find when I came home for Thanksgiving break. On Wednesday, I discovered my fears were justified. Our once pristine, Leave It to Beaver-style family dinner now consisted of my little sister eating massive amounts of allegedly “protein-rich” food and taking about 15 different “vitamins” (if steroids were legal, I wouldn’t put it past her to take those either) while the conversation revolved around her upcoming meet, her rival’s racing time, her sore Achilles and even a discussion of her, ahem, “stool sample.” (When I asked why she felt the need to describe this, my mom simply informed me, “It’s a cross-country thing.”)  One look at my other sister, who had just returned from St. Lawrence, told me that I wasn’t alone in my bewilderment.

Long story short, this Thanksgiving break taught me and my sister Hannah that cross-country is more than a mere high school sport; it’s a lifestyle, apparently one that consumes the lives of not only the athletes, but also the families of those involved. On the bright side, my parents are fitter than they’ve been in years, from the running they do from post to post during my sister’s meets, and according to the newspaper clippings on the fridge, my sister has become a well-known and respected athlete. Still, in the spirit of giving thanks, I’ll acknowledge that I’m grateful my sister didn’t start running cross-country until this year.  

P.S. Santa, if you’re reading this, all I want for Christmas is my family back…and a 4.0…and a new iPod…