Letter from a Cross Country Mom

This crazy, wonderful sport sometimes teaches life lessons in the most unusual ways

EDITOR'S NOTE: Linda Sleichter is a working mom of six from Clay Center whose daughter Katie ran high school cross country for four years. Katie's Clay Center team placed third at the class 3A state championships in 2018. Linda sent the following letter to MileSplit Kansas, symbolizing the roller-coaster of emotions that can be part of being a cross country runner...and parent.

Why did that have to happen?

In 2018, at the class 3A state cross country meet, our team was expected to place in the top five in class 3A. With less than a mile to go, a girl from Hiawatha went down. Our Clay Center Community High School girls literally jumped over her to finish the race. It knocked the Hiawatha team out of the running for a trophy. It broke their hearts. Why? I'm sure their team was asking that for an entire year... why?

Let me take you back to 2017. Our Clay Center girls cross country team was thought to have an easy-ish ride to state. With four strong juniors who had finished in the top five in almost every meet, they had hopes of state. They showed up at the McPherson regional with expectations. Yes, it was windy, but it was windy for all the teams. And our team was made up of tough farm girls. They could handle wind. They could do it.

But they didn't make it to state in 2017. We still aren't sure what happened. The wheels fell off the bus, as they say. The runners went down, slowed down, didn't perform. They didn't make it to state. Someone else did. 

Fast forward to 2018. Clay Center had six seniors, five strong runners, more determined because of our 2017 ending. They won meet after meet, and finishing in the top three at state was an expectation. They dropped one classification to 3A. They won league. They took second at regionals. They began murmuring about a goal of a state trophy. Not just qualifying for state, not a state championship. "Just" a state trophy.

That's what outsiders knew. What insiders knew, what the parents knew, was one girl had lost her grandpa suddenly the previous spring. One girl had a grandparent not expected to make it another year. And one girl -- my daughter -- lost her grandpa unexpectedly just three days before the state cross country meet. 

Our Clay Center Tiger girls cross country team showed up at state, running on heart. They were running for their teammate. They were now desperately aiming for that trophy, for their grandparents, for their families, for themselves. It meant more than just a line on a paper, a banner in the gym. They were running for each other. They were running for a trophy. 

And they did it. Partly because that poor Hiawatha girl went down. Partly because they gave everything they had and more. That girl who had just lost her grandfather that week, my daughter? She beat two girls at the finish by less than a second. And the Clay Center team won third place by 3 points, bringing home the trophy.

A year later, I think about the Hiawatha team who left that meet so sad. I wish they knew the whole story, how it was no longer just a meet for our girls, how much heart was tied up into that race.

And then I think of 2017, of the pain our girls felt driving home from that regional, when they didn't make it to state, wondering why? Maybe in 2017, someone else needed it more than them. And maybe in 2018, no one needed it more than Clay Center.

So as this 2019 season wraps up, some coming home with trophies, some agonizing about the losses by mere points or unexpected falls, I hope you will take a moment and congratulate the winners. And think, maybe in your heart, you know someone else that needed it a bit more than you did this year. 

But maybe next year is YOUR year.

God bless the runners.