John Shearer, Shopper News Published 8:17 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2019
West High cross country program grows strong Wochit
Just as the overall performance in a long-distance race cannot be measured in just a few steps, neither can a high school cross country career covering four years be measured by a single race.
That is the positive attitude top West High School senior runners Elisabeth Bernard and Macy Kraslawsky and their coach, Patrick Gildea, are trying to take following the state meet earlier this month.
While they had a disappointing-for-them 13th place finish there out of 24 teams, they are taking pride in all that has been accomplished over the last four years. That included qualifying for the state meet three times, winning it in 2018, and finishing second in the region and KIL meets this year.
Gildea credits much of this success to Bernard and Kraslawsky, who have led in spirit as much as in the final sprints.
“Even though it wasn’t the outcome (at the state meet) we hoped for, where the program and team are is because of those two,” the coach said. “Collectively, the program is in a pretty good place, and they leave it better than they found it.”
Bernard — who finished in 77th place in the state meet behind teammate Marley Townsend and top West finisher Emma Dewalt — said she, too, has enjoyed the journey that has included both literal and figurative hills and valleys.
“We can leave our high school running careers behind knowing we qualified for the state three out of four years,” she said with pride. “And it’s been so fun to see the sophomores improve.”
Kraslawsky said the team definitely came together emotionally as well as in their time training and competing. This was particularly true the last two years, after current sophomores Dewalt, Townsend, Sydney Hayes and Sophia Medley joined with them and fellow seniors Hannah Burkhart and Lydia Messer, she said.
“Our junior year, when the current sophomores came in, that was a game changer,” she said. “They radiated positivity.
“It has been fun. We’ve had a good time.”
Gildea said that, almost organically, some of the younger runners gravitated toward Kraslawsky for leadership and to train with, with the others joined with Bernard.
Part of the reason for the natural leadership is that both said they enjoy cross country greatly.
Bernard — who is also active in such other school groups as Model UN, DECA and the National Spanish Honor Society and plans to attend Alabama next year — said she loves the sport as as a positive way to relieve stress.
“It clears your head after a long day of school and you get to be in an environment where you get to be productive,” she said. “And I don’t think of it as an individual sport.”
Kraslawsky — who is involved in the National Honor Society as well as environmental and hiking clubs and will probably go to junior college on the Tennessee Promise scholarship — agreed that the team aspect is fun, despite the natural competition and focus on personal performance.
“It is so interesting because it is an individual sport, but you have the team concept,” she said. “It is all about self-improvement and growing, but you get to do it with friends.”
Gildea, who had come to West in 2011 after serving as a graduate assistant at St. Francis College in New York and a brief stint volunteering at the University of Tennessee, also finds the sport rewarding from a coaching perspective.
“There are a lot of aspects I enjoy,” he said. “I enjoy the relationships and I like seeing improvement.”
And he has also enjoyed coaching two runners and students like Bernard and Kraslawsky.
“It’s more than I can put in words,” he said with emotion about them. “It’s hard to say where this program is today without these two.”
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