Leaving it all behind would have been both an easy and hard route for senior Lauren Hanley. She is the original survivor, battling through demanding workouts and horrendous jokes that have come with the five seasons spent in Coach J.P. Kaminski's 6-year-old Eagles program. In her third year as the Eagles captain, she is one of only three athletes running in the Section 1 Championships on November 6 who will be able to say they also ran in the 2005 meet.
Where once the horizon seemed limitless when she was a twig of a freshman chasing the heels of her predecessor at captain, Paulina Nunez, two years of ailments and injuries on the cross-country courses have closed her seasons down early and surely made her wonder if it was all worth it. Stress fractures in the feet have dogged her, keeping her confined to the sidelines in a supportive role for her younger teammates. Leading and advising from the captain's chair might be a critically important job, but it just doesn't feel anything like leading out the war party in the wild stampede at the beginning of a race.
As the one who long ago selected girls' team uniforms designed to convince the Eagles that they were not sacks of potatoes but rather new-version Bronco runners transported to a less weird town, Lauren has had a lot at stake with the team. She well remembers the first Friday night pasta parties and has seen every great XC t-shirt slogan a high school team could parade at the invitationals. She remembers her first XC season when three Eagles had to run as an incomplete team, and she remembers the shock and awe she felt in the first meet of the next year when the trio were joined by a pack of middle schoolers and won a 100-1 bet on the Big Red Championship in Somers.
A gritty run to a 12th place on Saturday at the Brewster Bear Classic shows that the captain is making headway on her route back toward the top, and it is no coincidence that the Eagles won their first team trophy since that long ago Big Red meet in 2006. With a team still short-handed and missing some of the key runners from last year, the Eagles are pulling together the pieces for a great stretch run. But they need that boost of confidence that can only be provided by a senior who has overcome the XC hobgoblins.
Lauren will always remain a runner who swings low (we've given up trying to get those arms up higher) but aims high. In her last race she reached near the level of the best races of her freshman year with the sole exception of her 2006 County race run on that quirky Van Cortlandt Park course. For three years her eyes have been focused on one of the 5 at-large spots for the State Championship team. The waters ahead may be choppy and the lessening odds still against her, but the light to the destination can now be seen more clearly. And as an Eagle who ran at the 2006 Big Red knows, a lot crazier things have happened before and will do so again.