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They won.

We flew.

In a plane.

Two planes actually.

One from Rhodes Island carrying Ro McGettigan, and the other carrying me from Bend Oregon. Both of us were deposited in Detroit simultaneously after 10pm, where we rented a lemon yellow Kia Rio to drive one mile to the Clarion Airport Hotel. In a short nine hours we would get in the Lemon again and drive 1hr 40 min to Saginaw Valley State University to meet them, the aforementioned winners, and the plan was to sleep 8 hours and 55 minutes of that time. Well, until we actually saw one another and were talking our faces off so excitedly that we got turned around 3 times before we could even find our way out of the Budget rental car lot.

 

Mile driven.

Exit missed.

U-Turn nailed.

Check in complete and bags dropped.

And just like that two old friends from the racing circuit walked into a hotel bar full of sturdy menfolk in all varieties of sport caps, found an empty table in the corner, and talked whatever was left of our faces the rest of the way off. No talk about our book release, or the work that was yet to be done in the coming months, just little pieces of life drifting all around and through us in the non-congruent spurts of friendship lived apart.

 

Six hours slept.

90 miles covered.

Presentation planned.

SVSU arrival.

Their faces turned to look at us from the other side of the wall of windowed doors that led to the brand new indoor track facility, and we waved. One or two cautious hands turned into big smiles and just the right amount of awkwardness you’d expect when an internet relationship first meets up in real life. Coach Angelina rallied the troops and our walk to a private classroom for our talk quickly filled with the comfortable chatter of teammates.

 

White tables.

Plastic chairs.

Modern projector.

Realizing I’m in the way of the projector light.

I shared my personal running story first and then listened to Ro tell hers as if I were hearing it for the first time. How different our roads were that led to such similar places. How different the specific challenges were that led to the same mental adaptations. How much I needed to hear her message right now, as much as the cross country team before us, and how she is one of a very small handful of women who can say to me “Trust me, you’ll get through this stronger” and it lands like truth.

 

Neon sign.

Crispy bacon.

$3 entrees.

Silver haired women in cotton tees with applique bears.

A line of young hungry runners weave towards a long plastic table in the back room, where they plop down and distribute utensils and napkins from the pile in the center to one another. I order the Cinnamon bread French toast, which is listed as “VP Joe Biden’s favorite” and sit with gratitude for these women who invited us to their team’s favorite brunch spot. Before we head back to Detroit in our Lemon, we’ll eat and we’ll talk, in the unselfconscious, soul-filling way of the greasy spoon diner.

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A warm, sincere thank you to the SVSU Cross Country team for setting aside time to hear our talk, show us your digs, and let us get to know you a bit. You are an impressive group of women, with an amazing coach, and a lot to look forward to. Keep building something amazing.

Thanks also to Velo Press for the support.