Cross country, sport of ‘life lessons’

By Janene Gibbons
November 6, 2008

“It takes dedication and inner-strength,” Thomas O’Hora, head coach of the women’s and men’s cross country teams, said. “People who run cross country like the idea that they are in control of their own destiny.”

O’Hora went on to explain that any average healthy human being could run cross country but it really takes a special kind of a person who has the willpower to keep on going. Only less than 1 percent of the population has the courage to even try.

“It’s you against the elements and literally mind over matter,” O’Hora said.

“Cross-country is 90 percent mind power and 10 percent ability,” O’Hora said.

O’Hora feels that one great unique aspect of cross country is the fact that it is a totally equal-opportunity sport, where everyone is doing the same thing.

There are lots of ways runners can improve the efficiency of how they run. O’Hora said Eddie Penetar, sophomore psychology major, has been the player of the week by the Colonial States Athletic Conference five times in the 2008 season.

Penetar continues to improve over last year’s outstanding season. He works hard on fine tuning and getting better all the time.

Much of the improvement comes from learning how to run more efficiently. Form, for example, is extremely important in conserving energy.

Penetar set the record straight about the challenges that cross country presents as a sport. It takes a great deal of inner strength.

“Running is not just dealing with the pain but trying to fight through it,” Penetar said.

“People think it’s easy [but] not only is it physically tough but there is also the mental aspect. Breaking that mental barrier makes a good runner great.”

Runners run about 10 races a year. Coach O’Hora only lets each runner participate in about seven all out, which he feels is a manageable amount. Sometimes he likes to give the runner a day off or the coach might ask him to do the race just as a tempo workout for practice.

Penetar said he likes cross country and running in general.

He also participates indoor and outdoor track here at Cabrini.

Penetar enjoys the fact that cross country gives him the chance to be competitive. He says the race is a reward if runners put in the work at the practices.

“I have seen t-shirts that say, ‘Our sport is your sport’s punishment,” O’Hora said, “and this is true for the most part.”

Cross country is not always a highly attended spectator sport but at the same time O’Hora feels the way to get a real sense of cross country is to come out to a race and feel the adrenaline.

All of the races are held away from Cabrini’s campus and even when spectators do attend a race after the gun is fired all the runners disappear into the woods or somewhere else out of sight.

“It’s not a glory sport, it’s a self-satisfying sport. Usually the only notice you get is from team mates and parents,” O’Hora said.

O’Hora went on to say that the hardest thing about coaching is not being able to watch what is going on the whole race.

This season Cabrini’s cross country men’s and women’s teams have just one big event left, the NCAA regional race in Waynesburg, Pa.

O’Hora estimates there will be at least 60 different teams.

“We have had one of the worst years for stupid, little, crazy injuries,” O’Hora said when asked about this season.

He said to win as a team in cross country all five runners have to be good. There cannot be any weak link.

Each runner gets a point for running. First place gets one point, second two and so on. The goal in cross country is to get the lowest cumulative score.

If there are four runners who have placed in the top four positions and a fifth player who comes in at 210 then they won’t be able to win.

Regardless who wins and loses, O’Hora feels that people who make their sport cross country are engaging themselves in something good for their mind, body and soul.

“Cross Country teaches you life lessons, like when life gets hard you just can’t quit,” Penetar said.

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Janene Gibbons

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