Dear Coach Hento,
I ran a race on Saturday, a four-miler in the tiny Nebraska town of Brainard where a college friend of mine grew up.
The field of runners was small. Basically, I was guaranteed a medal (I got fifth). But I wasn't running for the hardware.
I was running for the adrenaline at the starting line, the breath that comes from effort, the ache in my calves as I pushed up the gravel hills. I was running to cross the finish line, to feel good about myself and to have fun with an old friend.
I was running this particular race, the Bohemian Alps Endurance Run, because I knew it would remind me of cross country.
Within a half mile of the start, we'd already run out of town and turned east to make the gradual climb up the first of many hills. The country roads were just like I remembered. The hills were just as hard. The scenery -- if you could force yourself to look up - was just as beautiful. The effort was just as rewarding.
But something was missing.
At this race, not only were there no aid stations, there was also no Coach Hento in the big steely gray van.
You always made the hills doable and the races and workouts runnable. I'm a writer, but I can't put in words how much of an impact cross country had on my life. It's no secret that I never had a whole lot of raw talent. I got by on my heart and my effort, and cross country seemed to work with that. I took inspiration many times from you. You encouraged us to never give up, you pushed us to be better than we were, you cared about us. And that meant the world to me.
I'm sure you wondered when I was ever going to stop coming to summer morning runs. Did I set some sort of record for being the oldest alumni still showing up at 7 a.m. to stretch on the little block of pavement outside the girls gym? Either way, thank you for welcoming me back then and for teaching me about running -- and life -- before.
Congrats on 25 years!
Veronica Daehn Stickney
Fremont High Cross Country 1996 & 1997