Trinity one-person running teams persevere


Evan Hunt has two theories why he is the only runner on the Trinity Lutheran boys cross-country team and Abby Hildreth is the only one on the girls team.

It is not because their high schools classes were assigned to read the well-known novel of the past titled “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and were scared off by the words.

Besides Trinity being a small school, classified as 1A, Indiana’s division for the schools across the state with the smallest enrollments, he believes if his schoolmates want to go out for a sport they want to do more than just run 5-kilometer races or do workouts that only involve moving their legs.

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“It is just running,” said the Cougars junior. “They want a ball to kick or throw.”

Never mind that training for long-distance running is good for the heart and lungs, Hunt said he is not truly a ball sports guy.

“I’m not coordinated enough to play soccer,” he said.

That may be a stretch since he does play basketball and baseball, but at least he knows cross-country will help his conditioning for those later-in-the-school-year sports.

Having just one runner per team caught new coach Jim Kay off-guard. He thought the student body would not be so skittish about a few miles of earned sweat throughout the fall. It takes five finishers to score as a team in cross-country, so while Hunt and Hildreth can participate as individuals there are no Cougar team scores.

Many days Hunt and Hildreth were accompanied by Kay, not only assigning the workouts, but doing them alongside his runners.

Even if, as Hunt put it, many students prefer ball sports, Kay thought he could appeal to the unaligned to join up.

“It was, ‘Hey, how about the athletic kids who aren’t playing another sport,’” was his argument, which did not prove persuasive. “There isn’t a sport running isn’t going to do you some favors.”

As might be expected, when the Trinity runners show up at big invitationals and championship events like the Sectional Saturday, 10:30 a.m. at Brown County, the crowds of runners are enjoyable to be with.

“It’s definitely fun to do the big races,” said Hildreth, a senior. “There’s more company. It can also be fun at smaller races because you you place higher.”

Hildreth began cross-county in the fifth grade and stuck with it.

“I’ve always loved the sport,” she said.

Trinity has not had a large team during her four years of affiliation. As a freshman she had one teammate. She sought to recruit among her friends before this fall season began, to no avail.

“Most of them gave me a look like, ‘Are you serious? I would never be good at running.’” Hildreth said. “I tried to tell them it’s tough sometimes, but it’s worth it.”

Nobody bought into her persuasion.

“Not this year,” she said. “It would be nice to have more of a team. But I just had to focus on my skills.”

One thing Hildreth learned, a pleasant discovery, is that if you put in the time and miles as a long-distance runner the payoff will almost certainly be there. Before this season her personal best was about 28 minutes, 50 seconds for the standard 5-k distance. She has chopped a little over two minutes this year, surprising even herself.

“My first reaction was that I was very shocked,” Hildreth said. “There was no way. It was, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Those who are seniors on teams during this era of the coronavirus have experienced many ups and downs. Local students were sent home for online learning in the spring and their sports seasons were cancelled. They did not know if, or when, they would return to school, or have fall sports seasons.

Track was cancelled and early in the summer Hildreth didn’t go out to run.

“I didn’t really do anything at first,” she said.

Then Hildreth began running again, with a workout partner, and that helped her get ready for this season. She might even be ready for another PR as the season winds down with state events.

“Oh yeah,” Hildreth said.

Hunt, whose best time is in the 23s, said he hopes if he tells his friends he clocked a new best time they will become intrigued enough if he tells them to get involved.

“I have a buddy in mind,” Hunt said.

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