Sunday, September 11, 2011

What a Difference a Year (or Two) makes...

Dan running at the State XC Meet Senior Year
 The smell of Fall in the air means football, falling leaves and to us…the Cross Country season!  My son, Dan came to Cross Country a little late in the game.  As a freshman in High School, he played football but as much as he loved the game, it just wasn’t for him!  He took the fall of his sophomore year off but decided the Summer before his Junior year to go out for Cross Country.  He had been out for track every year but at the most ran an 800 so the 3.1 miles he would need to run would be a stretch for him but he was determined.  I knew very little about the sport…it is one of the most overlooked sports in High School and College too!  Even when you continue to contend for a state title as our school has, it is usually overshadowed by Football and the other Fall sports.  But after the first meet, I was in love with the sport of Cross Country, as was Dan!  The parents and kids are the best…everyone cheers for everyone else…even other teams!  Dan ran on the JV squad that first year and was always towards the front of the pack, gaining medals at most of the meets!  Senior year, he made it onto Varsity and was consistently the number 6 or 7 runner on their team that was ranked in the top ten for most of the season.  They made it to State as a team and ended up in 7th place as a team.  Dan was the number 7 runner at State and also had one of the highest places for the number 7 runner.  He decided to attend Buena Vista University mostly to run track.  He had decided to practice with the Cross Country team just to stay in shape and run at the Conference Meet only if needed.  But after just a week, he decided that he could run with the guys on the team and he felt good, so he ran his first meet on Labor Day Weekend at Central College at Pella, IA.  It is a 6K course and he ran a very respectable time of 22 minutes flat.
Dan (# 189) running freshman year for BVU
 The following Summer, Dan worked harder on training than the year before because he knew he would actually be running the Cross Country season.  A week or so before he was to leave for college, he ran with his former High School teammates just to see where he was in his training.  He was a little disappointed because he couldn’t keep up with them but we thought he just hadn’t put in enough work.  At school, he struggled a little bit in practice but that is not unusual as the Coach never knows how much work everyone has put in over the Summer.  The first meet was again at Central in Pella…I was not able to go because of the distance.  Dan would always call me on his way home to tell me how he did.  I had found the times online and had to go way to the bottom to find him…that was very odd for him!  His time was 27:47 – 5 minutes slower than the year before!  When he finally called me, he said that he had needed to stop several times during the meet!  His coach thought he might be anemic as he had all the signs so we decided he would see a doctor in Storm Lake to get his blood tested.  About three weeks later he was diagnosed with Leukemia and the season and the school year came to an immediate halt!
Dan finishing strong in his first meet back in 2010!
 After finally finishing the intense rounds of chemo for his Leukemia, Dan finally began training again in May of last year.  His doctor was on board as long as his hemoglobin stayed high enough for him to run.  I really don’t believe the doctor thought he really could compete, but knew that having that goal would be very good for Dan’s morale.  We really had no idea how he would do and if he could actually run an entire race or not.  The first race of the year, again on Labor Day weekend, was this time in Mitchell, SD – a new course for us.  It was only a 4K course due to the large amounts of rain they had received in the area…which was a good thing for Dan.  I was so nervous…I thought he might collapse or just not be able to finish!  It was a course with several loops thru the same area.  The first time thru, he looked very strong…hanging with the others guys on the team he usually ran with.  The 2nd time thru, he seemed to struggle a bit more and by the last time, he really was slowing down!  I went to the last hill to try to motivate him up it and then went to the finish to cheer him on!  He finished with a hint of a kick to fight off a contender that was behind him!  It was such a huge relief to see him cross that finish line!  He wasn’t last but was only a few runners from the end but it didn’t matter!  To be able to finish and to compete again, at any level was the goal!  He continued to amaze us throughout the rest of the season by getting better…slowly but surely.

 This Summer, Dan was an “animal” in training!  He ran up to 10 miles a day and I think he is in the best shape ever!  Last year, he was just beginning to get his hair to grow back in and had a little bit of “moon face” from the high doses of Prednisone he had been taking.  He also was just starting to get his muscle mass built back up!  Now, his hair and face are back to normal and his muscle tone is back…better than ever!  The only giveaway that he is still ill is the port in his chest.  His expectations are high due to the training he has put in and how he feels.  He is ready to compete…for real, this year!

Fast forward to Labor Day weekend…just a week ago.  Again, I was not able to go to the meet in Pella again this year.  It is a 4+ hour drive for me and starts at 9:30 in the morning, so it would mean staying overnight in a hotel which just isn’t in the budget!  Even though Dan is doing great, we still have the same prescription bills, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses we did in the beginning…it just takes a little longer to get there.  Anyway…I anxiously awaited the text from Dan with his time!  I knew he was gunning for that 22 flat that he ran as a freshman to prove he was back to “normal’!  Finally, he put me out of my misery with a text…He ran 23:11.3 – just a minute slower than he ran his freshman year…Healthy!  He said he was very happy with his time as it was a tough course!  He finished just one second behind a teammate and 10 seconds behind a former HS teammate!  He had led them most of the race but it ended up a hill and he just didn’t have the kick he used to be famous for so he fell back at the finish.  He finished 79th overall out of 120 and was the seventh runner for the team!  I am so proud of him for this accomplishment but it didn’t come easy.  I saw the blood, sweat and tears he put into his training this summer…along with holding down a full-time job and monthly chemo treatments!  
Dan running this year at the Pella Meet
  This coming Saturday, Sept. 17th Dan will run at Ames for the ISU meet.  He hopes to break the 30 minute mark for the 8K course.  I certainly wouldn’t bet against him! I will be there to cheer him on along with my sister, Anita.  Hopefully, we will be missing the pouring rain that they ran in last year! I think this team will do great things this year with plenty of talented freshman pushing the upper classman!  I also think that those who know Dan’s story will be inspired by his progress and pushed to do better also!  Two years ago, I never thought he would be at this level!  I have learned what a strong, courageous and very determined young man my son is and I am so proud!  To me it doesn’t matter what his times are…I am just happy to see him back out doing what he loves…running!  That was something a few days after diagnosis I wasn’t sure would ever be possible!  What a difference a year (or two) makes!

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