In a damp and dreary environment where lush evergreens cascade over hills and mountain sides, a bright opportunity presents itself to numerous young athletes. Collecting competitors from throughout the country, Nike Cross Nationals is the ultimate once in a lifetime experience for students, coaches, and parents alike. Over the course of three to four days, athletes, myself included, are treated like royalty before, during, and after their national meet. Personally, my adventures in Portland are memories that I will never forget.
Nike carefully organizes each day in order to successfully incorporate the full NXN experience into the lives of enthusiastic runners. Gradually trickling into the hotel, teams, and individuals are met by a nutritious lunch as they prepare to embark on the exciting events of day one. According to well thought out plans, a bus transported me and my teammates to Nike headquarters after lunch, where we received our new Nike racing gear. As an employee guided us into the auditorium at the Tiger Woods Center, lights flashed all around us not only from the ceiling but from the cameras attempting to capture our happiness as well. A locker filled with shoes, warmups, and other racing gear stared back at our smiling faces as we took in the reality of our situation: the reason we were there, to compete.
Anticipation aside, my teammates and I relaxed on a quick run around headquarters before finishing up our workout with a bit of speed work on the track. This track, however, isn't just another local track found on the campus of your diminutive high school, but rather it is a red oval surrounded by the rich evergreens that define Oregon's landscape. It is where Olympians, record holders, and upcoming stars take care of business. It is where we, high school students who have clocked in countless hours of training, are able to be those professional runners that Nike supports for just a few minutes. And it is where coaches are truly able to capture the dedication and enjoyment of their athletes… with a whole bunch of pictures, of course.
Later that day, Nike displayed the previously submitted, creative team pictures during the opening ceremony. Drawing a parallel to the upcoming race, there was a competition to determine which team had the best photo, however, this was a much more light-hearted event. My teammates, competitors, and I oooo'd and ahhhh'd over the images that flashed onto the oversized screen at the front of the room and laughed at the pictures that were a little rough.
Contrary to the opening ceremonies, day two was not all fun and games. Taking the time to plan our race for the next day, my teammates and I rose moderately early to preview the course in the almost constant rain. Nerves building as the race approached, viewing the course for the first time was frighteningly beautiful. We really did it. We worked hard enough to be able to be racing on this professional, hilly golf course the following day.
Fortunately, the events following the morning run were more relaxed, especially because the race approached quickly. Athletes had the chance to meet Colleen Quigley and her hair braiders in the athlete lounge before attending a question and answer with more of Nike's professional runners. After obtaining knowledgeable but surface level information from the event, my teammates and I were lucky enough to be able to delve deep with Evan Jager during that evening's dinner of pasta and meatballs. Talking personally with Evan Jager was one of my favorite parts of NXN because it is heartwarming to know that professional runners support young athletes like me. Following our conversation, a few of the pro's signed our new backpacks, permanently making their mark on us.
Not only did the professionals enjoy dinner with the athletes the evening before the race, they returned on race day to watch them compete as well. The pro's, along with other supporters such as family, friends, and coaches lined the slick, muddy course to cheer me and my competitors on during the final battle. Before the race commenced, however, Nike announced all the teams that qualified to pay tribute to all the hard work and dedication it took to get to this national competition. As my teammates and I ran hand and hand backward down the finishing shoot, the crowds cheered, the drum line played an upbeat rhythm, and I realized how grateful I was to be there at nationals. It is truly a privilege to be able to showcase my talents at such a large-scale event with the people I care about most: my teammates, my family, and my coaches. I could do nothing but smile.
As quick as it began, it was over. The announcement, the race, and then just the entire experience in general. Once the race started, there was no time to settle in, which is expected at a national level race. The high intensity carried my teammates and me through the course like fish in an ocean current, and soon enough we reached our destination. We ran through the finish, concluding the 2018 cross country season. Emotions wild from the race --a huge weight had just been lifted from our shoulders-- we soaked up the fleeting time in Portland at the dance the same evening.
When the night came to an end, and the athletes retired to their hotel rooms for one last time, a nostalgic mood fell upon them. Waving goodbye to Nike, to NXN, to Portland, and to the luscious trees, the athletes returned home with a sense of accomplishment on their minds. This experience will not be forgotten.