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Motivating high school runners is not always easy, even without a global health crisis going on. But with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, preventing kids from coming to school-sponsored organized practices or attending track meets, keeping high school runners motivated becomes an even greater challenge.

Anthony Belber, head track and field coach at the Georgetown Day School, anticipates that it will be weeks until the team can reunite in person, something he acknowledges is going to be difficult.

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“[In not having our regular season], we are being tested at this moment in a way which might be far more substantial than in a championship meet. We are being asked to show just how strong we are,” he said.

This challenge becomes even harder for coaches in Virginia. Last week,On Monday it was announced that there will be no track and field season for the rest of the spring season in the state of Virginia. Maryland and D.C. schools and sports are on an open-ended suspension.

Gina DeGaetano is the head track and field coach at Riverside High School in Leesburg. She knows firsthand the difficulties that this announcement brings, but is trying to stay positive in light of the news.

“The news on Monday was not what any of us expected,” she said. “I hope we get back to track rather sooner than later. I miss it. I think it’s important to note that as much as the athletes miss it, we (the coaches) miss it too.”

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Alex Taylor crossed the finish line of the 2018 California International Marathon just a few seconds too late. 

Finishing with a gun time of 2:19:12, he missed an Olympic Team Trials marathon qualifying time by 12 seconds. 

“I think I was the first one to finish and not qualify,” he said with a laugh. 

While it was disappointing at the time, Taylor, a Woodbridge native, now sees that race in a different light. 

Last June, he finished Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. with a gun time of 2:17:08, clinching that OTQ and achieving a goal that was a decade in the making. 

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Diego Zarate was in Albuquerque for a job interview. 

He was hoping that, as one of 16 men who qualified for the mile at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships, he could make something good happen and bolster his chances at signing a professional contract this spring after graduating from Virginia Tech, a few years after winning the Maryland 4A title in the 1,600 meters while a junior at Northwest. But he never got his chance to show what he could do in the mile and 1,500 meters after both the indoor and outdoor championships were cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary rounds were due to start a day later. 

“It was a shock,” Zarate said. “Everyone was there to be the best they could be. I’m wondering ‘could I have won? Could I have been an All-American?’

“I want to run professionally, but it’s going to be difficult figuring everything out,” Zarate said. “The way the seasons ended for a lot of sports, it’s going to be messy.” 

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Cross country at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology wasn’t a glamorous sport, but Jonathan Phillips didn’t care. 

“Basically it’s a bunch of nerds doing the nerdiest sport,” he said. “I loved it, that’s what kept me on the team.”

His journey to 40th place at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials started in places like Mason District Park, where the Colonials would perform their team rituals, which are best left vague for the uninitiated, or shirtless snowball fights on cold days.

“There was a team culture that really drew me in,” Phillips said. “We were pretty good at running, and it was a sport that takes focus. 

“When I started running, there were a bunch of guys in the next grade and they really reached out to welcome us. A lot of those guys came down to Atlanta for the Trials.”

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Walt Whitman cross country and track runner Ben Lesser is fighting acute myeloid leukemia — and he has a hurdle to get past.

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Sign up for the National Marrow Donor Program

Send Ben a card or note: 

Ben Lesser
6106 Harvard Ave. PO Box 607
Glen Echo, MD 20812

A Match For Max – a bone marrow donation sucess story in the running world

He needs a bone marrow transplant, but he doesn’t have a match in the nationwide Be The Match Registry. Family members have been checked, too, without success, said Kelly Fischer, who is Lesser’s dad’s significant other.

The first round of chemotherapy worked, but it’s not a permanent fix, said Fischer, who has known Ben since he was 6. He just turned 18.

“The match is a lifesaving bone marrow transplant,” she said.

People ages 18-44 who meet the health requirements can sign up at bethematch.org for free and do a cheek swab to see if they are a match for someone who needs a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell donation. The majority of donors are ages 18-44, but those ages 45-60 can join for $100.

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As her World Class Athlete Program team stood victorious in winning the 2015 Army Ten-Miler, Kelly Calway lowered her five-month-old daughter, Hattie, into the trophy. She fit perfectly. 

Four months later, when Calway came home from Los Angeles with a stress fracture, it was her eight-year-old, Hazel who told her, “Mom, I love you,” and helped ease Calway’s fears that she had let the family down when she dropped out of the 2016 Olympic Trials.

As Calway, of McLean, nears the 2020 Trials, she’s counting on pushes from her family to help her get closer to the 25th place finish she notched at the 2012 Trials or her 2013 Marine Corps Marathon title than to her injury-shortened 2016 race. 

“My dream is to get my whole family running together,” she said. 

She’s close to it. Her husband, Chris, is training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon. Hazel, now 12, has been running 5ks since she was a four-year-old in Girls on the Run, and Hattie, now 4, has run a mile. The three set up water stops and cheering stations on her long runs as she puts the finishing touches on her training. 

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Kathy Newberry’s running career has spanned nearly 20 years and has included six trips to world championship races and thousands of training miles, starting when she ran at Lake Braddock Secondary School.

Her secret to such a long trip? The same as the transoceanic flights to those races — plenty of fuel.

“I get that the regular person on the street has to be mindful of their diet, but when you’re running 120 miles a week, I’m sorry, I’m going to have four Dr. Peppers along with my bacon cheeseburger,” she said. “And my salad.”

That’s a message she has lived throughout her racing career and preached as a coach in both formal and informal capacities. As she approaches the last month before her fourth Olympic Trials, and her second trip to the marathon Trials, Newberry is as dedicated to eating right as she is to mileage and workouts. Now a Wellesley, Mass. resident, she qualified at November’s Monumental Marathon in Indianapolis. 

“Your body needs fuel,” she said. “If you try to watch what you eat, it’s a gamble you’re eventually going to lose. That’s a lot of why I’ve stayed healthy all of these years.”

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Editor’s note: Five years ago, we published one of my favorite stories, and I wanted to share it with you here.

Matthew Hua relished his first season of cross country at J.E.B. Stuart High School (now Justice High School). With no prior athletic background, his 24-minute three mile time is a point of pride. Lifelong health problems have been an obstacle in his running career, but they haven’t stopped him from fully participating as part of the team — except maybe in the team dinners.

Matthew’s gastrointestinal system has never functioned normally. He is unable to eat at all and drinks very little. In fact, virtually every one of his bodily systems is compromised. He is deaf in his left ear and his left vocal cord is paralyzed. Underdeveloped lungs have led to chronic conditions such as tracheomalacia (softened cartilage around the trachea) and asthma. He has ongoing orthopedic problems and his immune system is compromised, leaving him susceptible to infection and illness.

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Mark Robinson poses with members of the Bell Multicultural High School track team. Photo: Courtesy of Mark Robinson

In 2011, Mark Robinson, a longtime coach at Catholic University, was at a crossroads. 

He was essentially juggling two full-time careers: His job as head cross country coach and assistant track coach at Catholic, and his job as a curriculum manager for a D.C. nonprofit. 

Robinson, a CU graduate who set records on the track that still stand today, opted to retire from coaching to focus on the job that paid his bills. 

“It was a gut-wrenching decision,” he said. 

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Jenna Goldberg leads the senior race at the DCXC Invitational. Photo: Dustin Whitlow

With two 10th place teams at Nike Cross Nationals, another individual qualifier and two girls in the top 20 at Foot Locker, the annual report for the D.C. area’s cross country circuit was quite strong. Loudoun Valley’s girls return much of their team, as do Lake Braddock’s girls, Oakton’s boys, Walter Johnson’s girls and St. John’s boys and girls. The season lacked 2018’s rain-related meet cancellations, and on a personal note, I was pleased to have state meets on three consecutive weekends, rather than two in one day.

Their pant cuffs still soaked with mud from a season that barely gave them time to dry off, our coaches panel of John Ausema Jim Ehrenhaft, Emily Farrar, Kevin Hughes, Mike Mangan, Kellie Redmond,  Giovanni Reumante, Chris Pellegrini, Chad Young all had input into the selection of post-season honors for 62 of the D.C. area’s top cross country runners. While races at the end of the season held the most weight, the coaches did not discount mid-season achievements.

They chose the top 10 boys and girls overall, along with second teams — seven each from — Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and the Maryland suburbs.

I’ve begun moving our photos from cross country races (there are a few college and open races in there too) and road races to a SmugMug page – you can see them here. You can also read all of this season’s cross country coverage here.

See all the post-season picks for  Maryland   Washington, D.C.   Northern Virginia

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