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BHS cross country quartet competes at Jr. Olympics

Back in mid-November, a large group of teen runners from the area went on a cross-country qualifying race in Madison on a Saturday. The event was to see who would make the cut to run in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross-Country Championships to be held in Reno, Nevada.

Lincoln County was well represented in the qualifying, but when the medals were handed out and times were officially recorded, there was a small group of boys from Brookhaven that decided to actually make the trip to Reno to run in the national championship.

Maybe it’s better said that their parents decided that running in Reno would be possible.

Nevertheless, the quartet of Jacob Britt, Grayson Childress, Sam Mabile and Jake Thompson took part in the national race in the first week of December. It was a race, and a trip, the boys will never forget.

“It was freezing,” said Britt.

The boys and their families were greeted in Reno by a snowy, chilly landscape. They had been monitoring the weather ahead of their arrival in Nevada. They knew the temperature would be around 30 degrees on the race day of Dec. 8. What they weren’t prepared for was the mud that mired the race course.

“The mud was the toughest thing to deal with,” said Britt. “The ground was so slick, you had to be careful with every step and that really took a toll on your legs.”

Another thing working against the flat-land living Lincoln Countians was the elevation of Reno. Known as “The Biggest Little City in the World,” Reno sits 4,500 feet above sea level, which is just about 4,000 feet higher than The Home Seeker’s Paradise.

“You could feel it in your lungs,” said Childress. “Eventually you got used to it, but you could definitely feel it in your breathing.”

All four boys know they were fortunate to have families that made the trip possible. Childress was joined on the trip by his parents Jason and Emily. Britt’s parents — Jason and Leslie —weren’t able to make the trip. Mabile had his mother Terri with him, but his father Matt stayed behind in Brookhaven. The Thompson contingent was the largest, as Jake was joined by his parents Anthony and Lauren, sister Ella, uncle David Easley and grandmother Linda Easley.

Mabile knew his time in Madison at the qualifier was good enough to run in Reno, but he didn’t think he would make the trip.

“With it being close to Christmas and the races only being about three weeks apart, I told my momma I didn’t feel like I had to run in the race,” said Mabile. “She said, ‘Too late for that, I’ve already bought our plane tickets.’”

Britt and Thompson raced in the national championship in 2017. It was held in Tallahassee, Florida.

“It was cold and wet during that race, but it was nothing compared to the mud and snow in Reno,” said Thompson.

The day after arriving, the group rented cars and made the 40-mile drive to Lake Tahoe, California. The stunning beauty of their surroundings wasn’t lost on the group of teenage boys. They all mention that excursion as the highlight of the trip.

“We borrowed a sled from some people and got to go down a hill,” said Thompson. “The snow was really cool.”

As for the race itself — sloppy conditions notwithstanding — the boys ran wearing tank tops and shorts. Similar to how NFL offensive lineman rarely wear sleeves, despite how cold it gets, Britt says it was a mental thing to stay in shorts.

“When you’re competing, you don’t want anyone to see you act uncomfortable,” said Britt. “I’m more comfortable running in shorts and a tank top so I stuck with it.”

The 15 to 18-year-old division was a 5K course that was won by Erik Le Roux with a time of 16 minutes, 32 seconds. Britt finished the same course in a time of 19:27 and Mabile followed with a time of 23:07. There were 245 racers in their division. The 13 to 14-year-old race was over a 4K course and had 387 participants. It was won by Nate Jaster with a time of 13:53. Childress finished the course in 15:21 and was followed by Thompson with a time of 16:16.

The trail was on a foothill and began with an incline. The wide starting line narrowed down quickly as the boys headed uphill. Part of the reason the track was so muddy was the racers were making loops over the same trail. That pounding left certain parts of the trail with mud that was five to six inches deep.

“It was miserable,” said Childress.

Miserable, but memorable. All four boys are members of the Brookhaven High School Cross-Country Team and, even though their season just finished less than two months ago, the group is already preparing for the 2019 season.

Britt and Mabile will both be seniors for the Panthers next season, and Childress and Thompson will be sophomores. Britt says the team is closer than any team he’s every been a part of.

“I played a lot of sports as I’ve grown up, but nothing compares to the camaraderie we have in cross-country,” said Britt. “Our girls would say the same thing I’m sure, but it truly feels like being part of a family. I think one thing that makes it different from other sports is that no one has to sit out. When we go to a race everyone gets to run and participate and that leads to everyone cheering each other on, no matter how fast they run.”

Next year, the Junior Olympic race is in Madison, Wisconsin. Britt wants to run in the race again in 2019 before he ages out of the competition. Childress says not to pencil him in yet.

“I know it’s cold in Wisconsin in December,” said Childress. “I’m not saying no, yet. I’m just hoping it comes back to a warmer place in 2020.”

Story by Cliff Furr