When I first walked into the JROTC room down the hall at Clear Falls High School it was an atmosphere I wasn’t used to. I introduced myself to First Sergeant, James Courtney, and waited until the rest of his students came into the room. They were all intent on listening to him and seemed to work very well with each other.
Everyone asked who I was when they saw me, so I told them my name and that I would be covering the Texas Independence Relay that seven of the students would be running. This relay would be 203.3 miles back from Gonzalez, Texas to La Porte at the San Jacinto monument. Everyone in the room knew what the TIR was so I suspected that First Sergeant had been preparing the kids for a while.
The students from CFHS and I were packing the vans to leave the next day. As we were loading our bags into the van, two of the girls I was with pulled out shirts with TIR pasted on the front. Sabrina Marmol and Amanda Backus were the two girls who created these Clear Falls TIR shirts, fueling team spirit.
The students that I met that day were Hannah Hughes, Amanda Backus, Sabrina Marmol, Andrew Spicer, Matt Kinsey, Austin Williams and Anthony Chappell, each of them would be running. I met them this day but that was just the beginning of the bonds that would be formed over the weekend.
After school on Friday, the JROTC students that would be going to the relay packed into the vans we would be traveling in. We loaded into the vans and began the journey to Gonzalez at about 4pm.
First Sergeant, Courtney explained why he thought this year would be different, “I expect it to be more emotional.” He was referring to the age of the students because this year they were only running with one Junior, John Weldon. The rest of the students were either sophomores or freshman.
After asking a few of the participating runners, I found that they were more excited than anything to be running. Expecting them to be nervous, I was having a more positive view of the running ahead.
Hannah Hughes said, “In the beginning I couldn’t even run two miles, now I can just go nonstop.” Every member of this group had been practicing all year long about four times a week, for the TIR.
We arrived at the field house we would be sleeping in overnight and unpacked. After we had gotten all of our stuff out we headed over to a mixer where we met other runners, got TIR shirts, danced and had the opportunity to meet and speak with Olympian Leo Monzano.
We went back to the field house and before we slept the runners were given their numbers. That night everyone prepared for what was to begin the next morning. Before we went to sleep, First Sergeant came in and gave the runners their numbers and a pep talk.
He explained the procedure for the next day and told them that no matter what place they got, they had grown together more than they had ever been and that even if they did not receive recognition, they had been the second high school to ever participate in this event.
The next morning when we woke up everyone got packed and we went to eat breakfast. After, we went to the starting point in Gonzalez and the runners warmed up as they waited for their start time and saw other runners taking off.
About 9:40am the runners took their places and then the gong sounded, marking their start time. They ran their one-mile prologue together and then proceeded on to the first leg of the race. This was to be run by First Sergeant then Austin Williams met him at the mark for the second leg of the race. I rode in the support van with three other people and we skipped ahead six legs to meet up with the runners when they got there.
There were some challenges the runners faced but that didn’t stop them, “I’m excited, I was chased by dogs and ran into the wind.”
We met the runners in Schulenburg, TX and had lunch while we discussed nutrition and what events would follow the next two days. So far the runners had completed 46.1 miles all together. Everyone who had run had the same opinion on a few things. Hannah Hughes said, “I hate the wind.” And a few stories of the various legs were added in, relating to their dislike of the wind. Running into the wind only made it harder on the runners, tiring them out more quickly than they would have.
After everyone had eaten, there was a call that the runners would be a bit ahead of schedule so we needed to prepare for the next hand off. Ordering coffee at lunch would have been an excellent idea, because it was going to be a long day.
The day continued as we went from stop to stop waiting for the runners to catch up. Night came and the runners geared up for the routes, wearing reflective material and attaching lights to themselves. This time of day allowed the temperature to drop. After a day of seeing the runners and sitting in the van, I decided to join Sabrina Marmol on part of one of her legs.
The routes were harder than they seemed from the distance I had been observing them at. Even the amount of running I did independently at home wasn’t enough for me to be physically ready for this. When the leg began I was full of energy and ready to go, but then the pace quickened and the terrain changed. After the street lamps became further and further apart it began to be harder to see. I eventually was unable to keep up and had to let Marmol run ahead and finish this segment on her own.
Eventually we came to a city I recognized, Houston. I was so glad to see that we were nearing the final part of the race. Only a few more hours until we were back to the San Jacinto monument; this was a small fraction of the time that had been spent running in the previous days.
Resting on a hill with the others in our group I could see the other runners, just as tired as the ones in our group. This had started to seem less like a competition to me and more like many small families of people working together to accomplish such a greater goal.
Once the last runner, Andrew Spicer, was spotted coming down the last stretch of the race his teammates ran down to him and ran with him all the way to the finishing area. The whole team then marched to the finish, each receiving metals.
Everyone was absolutely exhausted after this adventure. The van drivers, support crew, everyone involved had been through so much in the past three days of traveling. Everyone had been brought closer by the experiences they shared.
I saw how much work was put into preparing yourself mentally and physically for this challenge. When I asked Backus about how she felt she responded,” Pretty amazing, I ran under a ten minute mile.”
It was much harder than it looked. These students had run, collectively, about 1000 miles in training. For months they prepared and worked with each other. The bond I saw with them was something only prevalent in people who trusted and cared for one another.
This was not only an accomplishment for our school, being the only high school group running, but an individual feat for each person who participated.