Over the last 25 years, the popularity of running as a sport has increased dramatically. All you have to do is walk through any parking lot and count the number of stickers that say 13.1, indicating the completion of a half-marathon or 26.2 which indicates a full marathon completion. In fact, according to runningusa.org, between 1990 and 2015, the number of recreational athletes completing road races went from 5 million to 17.1 million finishers. Many running enthusiasts feel the sport is equal parts physical exercise and emotional therapy. It allows time to decompress and enjoy the scenery around them. It is a passion rather than a hobby.
For Holly Springs High School Cross Country Coach, Kimberly Henry, running has been a part of her world since high school. As a member of her high school’s cross country team, Kimberly didn’t plan on running once she got to college. After an illness caused her to slow down in college, running was put on the back burner for quite some time. Life went on, and it wasn’t until Kimberly’s son was in the 7th grade that the opportunity to take her passion to the next level presented itself. When her son expressed an interest in cross country running, Kimberly found out that his middle school did not have a team. As a matter of fact, none of the local schools, traditional or magnet, had cross country teams for middle schoolers. Kimberly took this as a chance to form a team in her area and approached the Holly Springs Parks and Recreation department about starting a cross country team for young people in Holly Springs. They were happy to oblige and Kimberly Henry then became Coach Henry. “I wanted to give the kids who showed an interest a chance to learn and love the sport before High School,” Coach Henry said.
In 2012, after becoming the head coach, Scott Myers was told that he could hire additional staff and he immediately called Kimberly. At that time, the team was at the back of the conference and their confidence was waning. Coach Henry recalls, “There just wasn’t a lot of expectations at this point.” Once Coach Myers and Coach Henry came on board, however, those expectations increased dramatically and accountability fell on the runners and their parents. “When we first started, we were last at every meet, so we decided to back off of the larger meets,” Coach Henry said. They started to compete at smaller invitational meets, and as they mastered those, they would move on to a larger one. “This is where our success started. We saw success at the smaller meets and we began to manage our expectations,” she said. “If we win an invitational, we drop that one and move on.”
The distance for a cross country meet is five kilometers or 3.1 miles. This type of high endurance running requires determination, practice and above all, perseverance. “Our runners are the epitome of perseverance,” Coach Henry said. Unlike other sports, the cross country season runs year-round in one form or another. Their season begins on August 1 with a summer program that runs five days a week starting at 7:00 am. As any parent will tell you, the fact that these teenagers are willing to wake up and run at 7:00am during their summer vacation is a victory itself! In the “off” season, during the winter and spring, runners train using indoor tracks.
Cross Country is a sport without much recognition or notoriety. They don’t have cheerleaders or pep-rallies. But what they lack in pomp and circumstance, they make up for in support from their biggest fans, their parents. When asked about the families of her runners, Coach Henry spoke with as much pride and enthusiasm as she did for the athletes themselves. “They are so supportive, and we absolutely couldn’t do it without them,” she said.
It is clear that with the support of their coaches, school, parents and fellow athletes, the Holly Springs High School Cross Country team is one to watch. They are consistently at the top of the leaderboard and continue to improve. Their perseverance and determination over the last five years is humbling and worthy of the highest praise. Aptly named the Golden Hawks, this team is setting its sights on their next prey.