Recently, I got to see my high school Cross Country team and coach, Mr. Iverson, again. Every year, Iverson (or Ivy as he’s known by the team) hosts an alumni picnic for past members of the team to meet the current team, as a way of maintaining a familial sense to past and present team members.
I ran XC junior and senior years of high school; it was my passion back then. I want to share my XC story and how it led to and relates to living out the Catholic faith.
During the first two years of high school, running was not even on my mind. Instead, I threw myself into my parish’s youth ministry program. However, towards the end of my sophomore year, the beloved youth minister announced he was leaving and I had a feeling the youth ministry program might fall apart in his absence. So, I knew I needed to find a new activity – something to fill the void. I had always heard good things about my school’s XC team, the girls seemed pretty friendly, yet, I had hardly run before in my life. Iverson just happened to be my Government teacher for that spring semester and he also seemed like a nice, fun guy. I remember approaching him one day after class saying that I was interested in joining the Cross Country team. He told me I would have to be able to run for 30 continuous minutes before the summer camp began in June. Now that was intimidating – yet, somehow I pushed through the frustration of having no idea what I was doing – and succeeded in running for 30 minutes about about a month! As the months went by, I began to enjoy running and being on the team more and more.
Although I did not recognize it at the time, as I now reflect upon my many cherished memories from Cross Country, I now realize how much running and being on the Naperville North team laid the groundwork for living out the Catholic faith.
One of my absolute favorite things about Coach Iverson were the many life lessons he shared with us. Not only did he strive to help us become better runners, but he also genuinely cared about our personal growth as well. It truly meant a lot to me that he cared about every girl on the team, whether she was a varsity (top) runner or more of an average runner (like me), he was there for us – whether we were #1 or #101.
Through running, I learned dedication, discipline, and especially perseverance. I learned to push through the difficult workouts, ones where soreness seared through my legs, sweat dripping down my face, where I faced temptation to give up. Yet, as Iverson stated in the philosophy of the program, “it is often hard work, but we know that the rewards for this hard work far outweigh any temporary difficulties posed by any workout.”
So too with Catholicism. Similarly to running, it at first seems like a pretty simple religion to practice, just as there does not seem to be that much to running, you just run. Yet, as you go deeper with both running and Catholicism, you realize the true depth to each, how much effort is required. Both require me to push through even when I don’t feel like it. Yet, both bring wonderful rewards, which prove to be worth the effort, time, and discipline. The same perseverance I developed through the agonizing workouts, I now apply to my faith life and in striving to overcome sinful tendencies.
I also remember (and still have out my sentimental tendency) the weekly team letters Iverson would write us, which continue to provide inspiration for me. One such letter that sticks out is from October 2008 where he shared the importance of living in the moment – with which I still sometimes struggle.
“We need to be present in every moment, whatever the moment brings. The moment will sometimes bring breathtaking beauty of the changing leaves, but the moment will sometimes bring challenges as when the weather is bad or we don’t feel just perfect.”
Learning to live in the moment though is so vital for maintaining faith and trust in God. Sure, it is easy to love God and live the Catholic faith when I am in a pleasant mood. Yet, lately, I have been learning that faith goes beyond feelings. It is not just something I do when I am in the mood for it. Just like running. Being on the Cross Country team is tough – running 6 days of the week, having early morning meets, doing whatever workout Ivy had planned for the day. I had to learn to trust him though, that he knew what was best for us runningwise. So too, now with God. I have to trust Him that He knows what is overall best for me, no matter what my mood.
I now try to push myself to attend daily mass (praise God that there is a 5:15 PM mass) at least twice/week since I know that receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is the ultimate fulfillment in life.
One last thought – I started out running and my reversion to Catholicism in similar ways – both on total whims, not quite knowing where either would lead. I really started from nothing with running and far exceeded any expectations that I could fathom. With Catholicism, I at least had knowledge from being raised in the Catholic faith, but otherwise, I knew little about the depth and teachings or even God’s unfailing love for me and all people.
God helped and continues to help me grow in holiness and if you allow Him, He will do the same for you. Holiness really is just growing into the immense potential that we all have as humans and just doing everything with great love for others. I pray that your heart will be opened to God's love :)