Last weekend, two of my worlds collided.
On Friday, Sept. 24, the University of Dallas cross-country team traveled up to St. Paul, Minnesota, my hometown, to compete in the Roy Griak Cross-Country Invitational.
The Roy Griak is a notorious race. Every year, thousands of the best cross-country teams in the nation travel to the University of Minnesota to battle over grueling hills — and this year, through the cold, rain and wind.
Before our race, the team watched Division 1 competitors tear up the course. Wide-eyed, we saw Conner Mantz, last year’s Division 1 cross-country national champion, out-sprint his competition into the finish. Other athletes dramatically collapsed over the finish line before they were carried off by the medical team.
When my teammates and I lined up on the starting line with over 300 other competitors, I could sense the nervousness of the other girls. We gathered in a huddle for our pre-race prayer. “Lord, we offer this race to you as a prayer. May it glorify you,” I prayed. “Our Lady of Victory,” one of the girls shouted, “Pray for us!” we all responded. “Our Lady of Sorrows,” someone else said, “Pray for them!” we all shouted, laughing through our nerves.
When the gun went off, I found myself completely boxed-in by competitors. Move too quickly, I’ve learned over the years of my sport, and your shins will be torn up by the other girl’s spikes. Elbows were thrown and spots jostled for. After one mile, the pack thinned out, and I could see the gator up ahead, leading the pack over hill after hill.
Sucking in air and near collapsing, I crossed the finish line in 45th place. Although my time was nowhere close to my personal best, I was satisfied that I had “left it all on the course,” as the old cross-country maxim goes. I congratulated the other girls as they came into the finish corral and we exchanged joyful, sweaty hugs.
After a cool-down run and downing some sandwiches, the team piled on to our bus to head to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent in Bloomington, Minnesota. We were again called to “give our all” — but this time for God, not on the cross-country course.
Sister Emily received us and led us into the chapel for an opening prayer. I couldn’t help being in awe of God’s providence: I met Sister Emily when I went to Peru to visit the motherhouse of Pro Ecclesia Sancta, the religious order to which the convent belongs. At the time Sister Emily was a young nurse in the Twin Cities, and I was about to finish high school. I discerned that I needed to go to college (hence my four years here at UD) while she discerned that she was ready to enter religious life.
When Sister Emily led the cross-country team in prayer, I felt as though God gave me a glimpse of the glory of his providence. He had guided us both to exactly where we were meant to be — and had allowed our paths to cross again.
After prayer, Sister Emily divided us into groups. My group’s task was to clear branches from the convent’s wooded trails, while the others put together a few shelves for the sisters. Sister encouraged us to offer our work “Ad maxima Trinitatis gloriam” — for the maximum glory of the Trinity.
We took her encouragement to heart: by the end of an hour and a half of gathering sticks and branches, our pile was the size of a large van. Sister was astounded.
“I think the Lord will provide for something to do with it,” Sister said, laughing at the ridiculous size of the pile.
In a way, our huge pile of sticks is a good analogy for our team. Like the overflowing pile of sticks, the strength and perseverance that we cultivate as individuals on the team cannot be self-contained. When properly compiled, the individual components of its members overflow into those who surround it. Teamwork is naturally integrative.
I’m so thankful that UD provides opportunities like this to tangibly experience the integration of my athletic and faith lives. All athletes have a responsibility to cultivate a culture of integration within UD, where there is no boundary between faith, athletics and academics. Athletics can spill into our academics, and academics can spill into athletics. We know that with grace there is no rupture between our prayer and our work, our soul and our body.