Running as a chance to reflect
Drenched in sweat and determination, Cate Ratliff’s steps could be heard from yards away as she approached the finish line at Saturday’s 2019 UCSB Lagoon Meet.
She and 10 other runners were competing in the mixed three-mile race. Only one other runner beat her to the line: her own coach, Kobi Kelly. While Mr. Kelly came in first at 18:07.84, Ms. Ratliff arrived nine seconds later. Not bad for someone recovering from a major hip surgery.
Ms. Ratliff — a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student and a Santa Cruz native — underwent a hip-reshaping operation nine months ago. She wore the scars on her left hip proudly and even showed them off to the New-Press after she finished the race.
Bearing these scars, Ms. Ratliff finished the race with flying colors. But for the 21-year-old, it was less about the medal she got and more about re-entering the sports that she brings her joy.
“I have to start somewhere,” said Ms. Ratliff. “I haven’t raced since before I had surgery. And I was like, ‘You know what? You love running so much, you just got to start again.’”
When asked what about running she loves, Ms. Ratliff, a long time runner, gushed like somebody would about a new significant other.
“It’s just this thing that totally gives me purpose,” Ms. Ratliff said.
Her surgery occurred during the gap year she decided to take from school, but even after the operation, when her passion for the sport waned a little with the recovery, Ms. Ratliff could not stay away from cross-country completely. She has been coaching at San Luis Obispo High, where she rediscovered her love for the sport.
“The high schoolers, they have made me love running again,” she said. “Getting to coach and seeing these young people love it as much as I did, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I still really love this!’ ”
The rush of her first race since surgery fueled Ms. Ratliff, but she was not the only one leaving others in the dust on that sunny Saturday.
UCSB junior Astrid Rosvall charged through the last portion of the race, finishing third by beating Cal Poly’s Sierra Brill by one second.
The Stockholm native glowed with happiness and hard-earned sweat as her friends high fived and congratulated her.
Usually a short-distance runner, Ms. Rosvall was glad she was able to step up to cover the three miles.
“I was getting tired just thinking about it before the race,” said Ms. Rosvall, and one of her teammates who had overheard hollered, “Girl, I feel you!”
“Running two minutes compared to 18 minutes, it’s just mentally tougher I think,” she said.
Luckily, cross-country runners look to each other for support, even if they are competing against each other.
“Running by yourself is not fun. You don’t want to be where one party is up there and everyone else is back there. That’s not fun,” said Ms. Rosvall, who added that she and the fourth-place winner, Ms. Brill, kept each other company during the race. This technique of running with company that Ms. Rosvall refers to was used by younger runners as well.
Carpinteria High School’s Kate Cooley, for example, medaled in her 1.5-mile race. Kate said the fact that she had a teammate run with her made the race much more enjoyable than it would have been. Her teammates, Shaylah and Savannah Alvarez, nodded in agreement.
The twins reached their personal record during Saturday’s race, both completing three miles in less than 23 minutes.
The three young athletes, however, did not sugar coat how demanding cross-country is.
“At the finish line,” said Shaylah, “you feel kind of weak inside all over but there’s people cheering you on when you get there … the last 400 meters, you really want to push it.”
“Tell yourself you’ll be able to keep going, and you’ll be able to keep going,” said Savannah. “I’m way stronger than I thought I could be.”
That is exactly what the runners at the lagoon meet demonstrated Saturday morning: the inner strength we all have within.