On the first day of cross country practice in 2017, I was the only freshman girl present. I didn’t know a single girl on the team, and I was really shy back then so I just stood there awkwardly, waiting for someone to let me join in a conversation. Thankfully, one girl, a junior at the time, approached me and introduced herself. Jill hung out with me for the rest of that practice, introduced me to the other girls on the team, and made me feel completely at home. If it wasn’t for her reaching out to me, I don’t know if I would have wanted to go back. Jill was just that kind of teammate. No one could ever feel left out, because she was always looking out for each girl on the team. She was the first of many people in both Warwick’s cross country and track programs to have a positive impact on me. From that first practice up until she graduated in 2019, she set an example; be the bigger person and show kindness to those who are on the outside. At the end of the day, if you want to race like a team, then every member of that team has to feel like they are a part of it.
By the time I reached freshman track season, I was definitely feeling more comfortable around my teammates. Honestly, I’d gotten kind of loud and probably a little bit obnoxious. That’s when I met Kate, who was a junior at the time, and she helped to reign me in a little. Kate and I bonded instantly, and she became a kind of mentor to me. To this day, I continue to look up to her. She is the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and because of that, she is very fast. She broke the PIAA record in the 3200 in 2019, so she’s pretty legendary at Warwick. You’d think that someone that successful would be at least a little bit arrogant, after all, I’ve seen people who’ve accomplished half of what she has with a bigger head than her. However, I can genuinely say that Kate is the most down-to-earth person you’ll ever meet. I would always stand next to her while she was being interviewed, and she would never talk about herself. She’d find a way to turn the conversation to me, or our other teammates, or the girls she competed against. She knew just what to say after I had a bad race, and she was always super positive. She taught me a very important lesson early on: work hard when no one is looking, and give the glory to your team when everyone is looking.
I kind of coasted through my freshman year. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I learned as much as I could as I went along. By the time I reached sophomore year, however, I definitely started to need more coaching. It’s no secret that I did not exactly get along with my coach when I first started at Warwick. I was very dramatic and refused to talk to him, and I have no idea why. It’s become a big joke on our team now. I had some good conversations with Coach Bombs throughout sophomore year and discovered that I actually really liked him. As athletes, it’s important to have coaches that are 100% invested in their team and are borderline obsessed with their sport. Coach Bombs definitely checks that box. His enthusiasm for running is one of the biggest reasons I have had the success I’ve had in high school. When he tells me what he thinks I can accomplish, or when he communicates with me during a race, I can trust what he says because I know that he cares about the results just as much as I do. He’s taught me just how important it is to love what you’re doing, because if you don’t love running, why do it?
I don’t know if the three people I just mentioned truly understand the impact they’ve had on me. I guess that’s my point in writing this, though. I took the lessons that these three, and countless others have taught me, and I’ve applied them to my leadership at Warwick. This cross country season, I knew the talent we had on our team, and I knew what we could accomplish. I tried my best to lead the girls through the lessons I’ve learned from other leaders, because I knew we needed someone to hold the team together. We ended up going undefeated for our first two meets, and thought we had a real shot at the Section title. However, we lost by one point to a team in our third meet, largely because of me. Our next meet, we lost to a team by five points; again, because I had underperformed. I was struggling with health issues, and was bummed out because I knew I wasn’t at the level I had been a year ago. All I had wanted was to be able to contribute to my team, and I felt like I was letting them down, race after race. Those two tough meets were a turning point for our team. We could choose to give up because we were disappointed, or we could choose to use the disappointment as motivation to unite and come back better than ever for the postseason. I admit that I was starting to give up, but my teammates had other ideas. For a long time, I had been trying to set an example that the team always comes first. It wasn’t until I was at my lowest point, when my team picked me up and led me forward, that I realized what I’d done. I’d done what Jill, Kate, Coach Bombs, and many others had done for me. I had made my mark on my team, and my teammates were going to pass down my example to new runners. It was that revelation that kept me going. I had done something good for my team, and I didn’t want to offset it by giving up when it got tough. Warwick girls cross country went on to win the LL League meet and place second at the District 3 Championships.
I’m writing this, not to try and brag about myself and what I’ve accomplished, but because I think it’s important for people to really understand how delicate team culture is. Every person that has ever worn your school’s jersey has an impact on team culture. Every coach, no matter how long or how many years ago they’ve coached your team, has an impact on team culture. One person’s attitude causes a domino effect, and it’s up to each and every athlete and coach to make sure that their domino effect is a positive one. In my eyes, my greatest achievement in high school athletics hasn’t been winning medals or getting a certain time. I’m most proud of the positive impact I’ve made at Warwick, because I know that will do much more for my team than any medal I’ve ever won.
Make your mark, and make sure it’s a positive one.
Editors Note: Anna Martin will be continuing her academic and athletic career at Cornerstone University (Michigan). She finished her high school career by helping Warwick’s 4x800m relay team place 4th at the PIAA State Championships! She set new 800m (2:17.68) and 1600m (5:08.58) PRs this season. She earned her 2nd XC state medal this past fall with a 21st place finish. Best wishes, Anna!!!