One possibly lesser-known activity held during Homecoming Weekend was the 26th Annual Roy Griak Cross Country Invitational. This meet, hosted by the University of Minnesota, was held at the Les Bolstad golf course on Larpenteur Avenue in St. Paul. The "Griak" is the country's largest college-level cross country meet, comprised of six races: both men's and women's for Divisions I, II, and III. In addition, competitive high school teams from around the state participate. Today a total of over 4,000 runners raced distances ranging from 5 to 8 kilometers.
Roy Griak, in whose honor this meet is named, has been involved with the U of M cross-country and track teams for 48 years. He has coached, held a position as the administrative assistant, and stays active in the program even after retirement in 1996. Today, he attended the races at the age of 87.
The Griak meet represents to cross country runners the essence of the sport itself. To high school teams, the Griak serves as an elite racing opportunity: the best, fastest high school teams represent themselves and the schools that are invited must be remarkably successful. Smaller teams with less experience will find themselves thrilled to run in such an exceptional race but finishing at the far back of the pack. To college teams, the Griak is the most exciting race of the regular season (meaning that Nationals or Regionals, for example, might prove more exciting). Because so many teams participate in the races, the energy is invigorating and the cross country spirit is most alive. Colorful tents are pitched; tarps are laid; boxes of bagels and fruit scatter around camps; parents and grandparents along with younger siblings wander around the golf course. Runners in matching uniforms warm up in clumps, goofing around and spreading a contagious sense of camaraderie. Other racers jog alone in multiple directions, weaving up hills and around loops wearing short shorts, spandex, light jackets and other techy running attire. Teams stretch in large circles, converse in small groups, and sit cross-legged with shoulders hunched while screwing spikes into their racing shoes. During the race, coaches wearing warm-up uniforms advertising their team logos sprint from one part of the course to another, looking down at their stopwatches and barking instructions to their runners--sometimes their advice is encouraging, other times it is less gentle and more vehement. The extraordinary mass of fans and competitors add to the adrenaline already felt by runners working hard to keep their pace over hills and around tight curves. The excitement of running a cross-country race is, to a certain extent, indescribable to one who has never attended a meet or participated in racing.
Today, the Concordia University Golden Bear cross-country runners achieved personal records compared to both last year's race and to other previous races. Team members' family visited and donated snacks, Coach Breitbarth's wife and 3-week-old daughter cheered along the course, and Coach Mark disappeared because he was mingling with everyone he could find (as usual) in attempts to talk to high school coaches and gain new recruits.
This event conveys many things about being human and Christian in an interconnected world. In terms of being human, all of the above-mentioned elements are part of each attendee's interpretation of being human. To those who connect with running, part of their very humanity lies in their participation in the sport, whether that means racing, coaching, or supporting a competing family member. The significance of this event is emphasized in their taking part in something they love, something that is a major part of who they are. This lifestyle of running has involved commitment and prioritizing of time; struggle and effort; goal-setting and accomplishment; patience, especially in the case of injury; personal fulfillment; joy and pleasure; and so much more. To those who do not connect with running, humanity is still represented in this activity by its inclusion of camaraderie (support of fellow participants in one common activity); encouragement of those who are working hard to achieve a desired goal; awe of one's physical abilities; and recognition of training that has contributed to a result. Anyone can identify with these elements of humanity.
In regard to being Christian, this event included threads of faith in God. Hung on one team's tent were signs that read, "Run for Christ" and "For God's glory." A few teams could be found wearing T-shirts with the words of Philippians 4:13, "I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me" on the back. These teams clearly and publicly recognize the blessings God has given them and the integration of those blessings into this event. The physical undertaking of training and racing could not be accomplished without the strength or abilities with which God Himself has gifted humans. The healing of injuries, recovery from illness, and overall health prove other ways God enables these runners and everyone to do exactly what they have done, are doing, and by His grace will continue to do. The words recognizing God's hand in this event may not win conversions to Christ, as the Holy Spirit alone accomplishes that work, but for believers and unbelievers alike those phrases bring to mind the grateful hearts of runners who appreciate the gifts they have received from God through Jesus Christ. Elements of humanity and Christianity combine during this event.
This activity challenged me in that God again reminded me of my weakness and His strength. When I became overwhelmed with fear for what might happen during my race or felt pressure to perform above what I felt I was able, God stopped me in my self-centeredness and pointed me to recognition of His strength. Our team's devotion this morning involved a discussion of the Israelites on their way into the land of Canaan. When the spies decided that the occupying people seemed too powerful and the Israelites assumed they would be overcome, God told them to continue, saying that He would give the land over to them. He would employ His strength through the Israelites to accomplish His own purposes, and He would give them success. In the same way, I was reminded (with the assistance of a few deep breaths) that God would bring me through my race according to His will. Outside of my own race, God showed Himself in each and every runner who crossed the finish line, demonstrating the incredible capabilities He gives to those He has created. I was encouraged again to trust in God and to see Him in everything--including cross country races.
Through faith God gives me I will transfer this lesson into my academics, contemplation of future goals, personal life, and interactions with others as I learn to trust God's direction for my life and turn away from temptations to worry about what I perceive I am ill-equipped to accomplish. God promises to be with me in all that I do and grant me success for His glory. I can trust His wisdom as He guides me through my life and finally into eternity with Him.