Running into State

Kat Acabal, Journalism Student

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How often do you hear your schoolmates talk about wanting to join an extracurricular, “but I don’t know”?

   Glenbard South’s varsity sprinter and now varsity cross country junior Ania Gniatczyk took the chance to join the girl’s 2017 cross country season and was pleasantly surprised by finishing the season at state with a personal record. Her uncertainty crystallized into a new interest, the feeling of safety in the cross country environment and overall confidence.

   Coming from a family with sprinting siblings influenced Gniatczyk to make the easy decision to join girl’s track her freshman year of highschool, maneuvering around her academics and jazz band. Despite feeling pressure because of jumping into the sport a little late, she ended up loving it.

   “I thought it was great experience. I thought it was a very good, fast-paced environment,” Gniatczyk claimed.

   Creating relationships with the girl’s cross country coach, Mark Tacchi and a familiar face from band, Glenbard South alumni Abby Schlenker were the foundation of encouragement for Gniatczyk to take on a different form of running — long distance.

“Knowing a lot of girls in cross, and of course knowing Tacchi, I thought, ‘all right, let’s give cross country a try,” Gniatczyk said.

With a copious amount of support and the benefit of staying in shape for track season, Gniatczyk arrived to 2017’s first cross country meeting in August. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was just hoping to not completely fall behind compared to everyone else… it ended up going pretty well,” she said with a genuine smile on her face.

“[Cross country] was a really great, positive environment. Everyone throughout the whole season had been so encouraging and [we were] always supporting one another.” Gniatczyk planned on joining cross next year in her senior year because of all the fulfilling relationships formed during tough practices, personal records, and early morning meets.

On one hot day, Gniatczyk and her team all caught their breath after running about four miles at Village Green Park and played in the little water park and rocketship-shaped park. It was just little moments of rebellion against running and quirky instants that comforted and nurtured the team’s bond.

Another particular bonding experience was making it to the Illinois High School Association’s Cross Country State meet. From the self-doubt of the ability to run three miles in the beginning of the season to being part of the team’s top twelve was overwhelming to her as well as to new members. The top twelve girl’s cross country athletes had all dressed up for a fancy dinner and stayed the night in Peoria where the finals were taken place.

Gniatczyk threw around the phrase “I will not believe Tacchi until it’s actually announced”  after the bewildering news from the team coach: Glenbard South’s 2017 girl’s cross country team was going to state! “Even [when it was officially announced] it was hard to believe until we were actually there at the race lined up before the gun went off…” she said.

To end the season, Gniatczyk reached her goal to run three miles in less than twenty minutes. She cut off about thirty seconds from her previous time: 19:41. What helped was the humble mentality of running for herself and for a personal record instead of a trophy.

“I was in a positive mood the whole time. I was like, ‘alright, we got this, this is our last race left in the season. If we don’t do it here I would just lose my opportunity.’ You never know if next year we make it to state or not,” she said. “But as soon as I saw the clock and saw that I broke twenty I was shocked, like I couldn’t believe I was running that fast. … I didn’t know I could perform that well in a distance event since I happen to be a sprinter.”
With Gniatczyk’s positive experience of her first cross country experience season, she was more confident in giving advice to her fellow classmates talking about wanting to join an extracurricular, but feel insecure because they are unsure of whether they would enjoy it.

“I’d say I’ve always been willing to try new things, and especially with trying cross country coming from a sprinting background, but I could say I am a bit more willing now since, knowing that I wasn’t comfortable running distance before hand.

“I’ve said this to a bunch of people actually, the point of high school is to be busy. There is two types lifestyles you can live in basically: it is either you do nothing and your life is basically just school or do everything and one’s barely ever home, but that’s the way it should be in my opinion at this age. It is our opportunity to try everything that we can try, because we are given the opportunity to try these different things without any risks, without like the risk of losing our job or anything. It’s not like our lives depend on this; were able to try things we want to. So I would definitely say to people on the fence on whether or not to join a sport to try out because guess what? You don’t need to do it again if you don’t like it, but if you do, you found possibly a new passion of yours. Take the risk! What have you got to lose?” Gniatczyk said.

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