Crossing more than finish lines: TJ Cross Country


Photo courtesy of James Huang

Huddled together, Cross Country athletes chant the maxim “I Believe That We Will Win”. On Oct. 17, with the annual district conference promptly approaching, Jefferson sprinters energize their spirits through optimism and reassurance for their impending mark of success.

Sean Nguyen and Pratika Katiyar

As the season of cross country wanes to its conclusion, athletes reminisce on their hours of training that has cultivated to faster personal records (PR), a healthier mind and body, and a more unified team. For seniors, some having been on cross country since freshman year, this roller coaster of success and missteps will come to an end as their Cross Country (XC) story reaches its final chapter.

Senior Nick Begotka initially joined the team his freshman year because he found great fulfillment in running, yet throughout his four year career, newfound friendships became apparent.

“I have gotten so close to the various members of the team and just being able to know the all these different people from all walks of life has been a greater experience than the running,” captain of Cross Country Nick Begotka said. “I can still continue to run in college, yet I will genuinely grieve over not being a part of this team, where over the years, they have been individuals who I could just exercise with for hours after school and easily get my mind off of the stressors of school.”

The training in XC is relentlessly taxing and mentally and physically draining for an individual due to its level of intensity. Nearly every day after school, cross country athletes congregate at the track and field where they quietly stretch, bracing for a lengthy course. At a predetermined schedule, Mondays are frequently considered the intense workout, Tuesdays are a cooldown, Wednesdays are the pre-meet, and Thursdays and Fridays are moderate conditionings. Most of the athletes acknowledge this routine to be exceedingly vigorous, and the discipline has shone through with personal records significantly diminishing in time.

Freshman Teja Kocherla’s first 5K run clocked at 21 minutes and 17 seconds, yet as he maintained his routine practice, his time dwindled to 17:59; Teja lost approximately three minutes off of a 3.1 mile distance after only two months of the coach Todd Withington’s guidance.

“Throughout the season, everyone on the team dedicated hours with exercising daily, therefore it was undeniable that this was a vigorous time commitment,” Kocherla said. “Yet, it surely paid off. Everyone’s times drastically improved, where at the various conferences, Jefferson claimed triumph as we consistently ran faster, smarter, and harder than the remainder of the competition.”

All of this excessive training and discipline has been the culmination for the Oct. 17 JV conference, and the Oct. 26 Varsity conference, where success and failure arose. For JV runners, five of the six top places were from Jefferson athletes as Max Judish, Teja Kocherla, Ikhlass Bhat, Dennis Tian, Nick Begotka securing first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively. However, predicaments promptly emerged at the Varsity conference as injuries overcame the athletes. When something horrific like this occurs, there are three choices: let the injuries define them, let the bruises destroy them, or let the scars strengthen them.

“Unfortunately our fastest runner, Dylan Clapper, rolled his ankle promptly into the competition. Another top seven athlete [Judish] tore his leg when he sprinted towards a metal post,” sophomore Jonathan West said. “Rayaan Malhotra abruptly lost his shoe when an athlete accidentally stepped on his heel, and Sean Clancy suffered from low blood sugar.”

Thus, despite this detriment, Jefferson qualified for states where the racers were optimistic they would rebound and perform considerably better. The training has not been the only component responsible for the success of the team. In order to overcome so many roadblocks, the team had to continually pick up one another when they fell.

“When I was an underclassmen, even though I had done cross country prior to high school, I really felt as though the upperclassmen accommodated me with a strong foundation, assisting me to become a sharpened runner and a better person,” junior Rayaan Malhotra said. “I aspire that in the upcoming season, if I am fortunate enough to become a captain, I can do the same for the underclassmen. I have faith that we will become a close-knitted family, similar to how the upperclassmen treated me and my friends when we initially began this enduring sport.”

This year’s team has secured a spot to Regionals, persevered through courses, and dealt with several injuries. The team is not just known for their skill, but also their stance and enduring legacy they have marked on subsequent seasons.

“XC has produced a family where we build off one another, motivate one another, and in the end, it’s not about the winning or the running, but growing together,” freshman Varun Chilukuri said. “We aren’t individual members, but all on one team, where we will win or lose and rise or fall as one.