It was just before 8 as I was biking down Wilson Ave to the lakefront on a warm, damp and humid morning. Reluctantly, I signed up to assist with the 31st Phoenix Invitational at the behest of Fr. Zi. The Phoenix Invitation is the old and largest high school cross country race in the City of Chicago; today, it so happened to be its last.
This was my first cross country meet in 4 years. Now let me make this clear, by first XC meet in 4 years, I mean the first one I’ve watched in that period of time. There is no way for the life of me can I run, but I can sure cheer on the runners. I forgot how much watching people run really is; granted all you do is see them whoosh by ever 6-7 minutes, unless you chase them down, but it’s so much fun. Plus, cheering with the Phoenix XC team added to the excitement as I began to get to know the kids.
As the varsity races began to start, one of the assistant coaches and a Quigley alum, Victor Garcia, asked me to be the rabbit for the race so he can cheer on the team. There were two things that I didn’t realize when I accepted this challenge, 1. these kids are faster than you think and 2. Cricket Hill.
I gave myself a 150 yard start and began to ride down the trail as soon as I saw the boys running. Thankfully, I had my mountain bike because the ground was slick and bumpy. Down the first stretch I flew as the pack began to immediately separate with the elite, Roger Pinon leading, the fast, and then the rest of the pack. A quick left and a flash of a tunnel, I climbed up a tiny incline and headed through a thicket of trees to a large clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a large sledding hill, to be more exact, Cricket Hill.
I began to race up the hill with all my strength. Not too bad, about the same as Warren Park’s sledding hill. That was what I thought, then as I hit the half way mark, I started to slow down as it got more steep. However, the sharp incline was not my biggest problem. At that moment, at the corner of my eye, I saw a body next to me. Only except, it was next to me and now it’s passing me and beating me up the hill. Roger Pinon out ran me up the hill as I am biking. I could not believe it!
I immediately jumped off my bike and sprinted up the hill to catch up. I thought I would get on top of the hill and use the slope to catch up and beat Roger again. What I didn’t expect was a crowd of the Quigley XC team laughing at me as I reached the top. Honestly! Racing down the hill, two more things were running through my mind: 1. I knew I would hear it on Monday and 2. Roger was already at the bottom of the hill and by the soccer fields. Crap!
Racing down past the soccer fields, back through the tunnel, and to the turnaround straightaway, I knew that Roger was long gone. “Aren’t you the rabbit? Shouldn’t you be ahead of Roger?” I heard a coach yelled at me as I passed him. Oh well, at least I was in 2nd place right?