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Third place winner Megan Szpak Saratoga Springs High School


The power of the individual is small, yet we believe in the strength of the collective human energy, just as we know a drop of water is the source of a great river.
- Chieko Akiyama

I feel my teammates' pulses as we grasp hands, running to the starting line through the smoke. We are a unit of pure adrenaline, too focused to notice the crowd and cameras, too charged to care about the mud and cold. I am ready to run with guts, to race my heart out, to leave it all on the course. But when it comes down to it, seven girls have to cross the finish. The power of the individual is small; you are nothing without your team.

This is the moment we've dreamed of. We fight for these opportunities every day of every month of every year. Our season never ends. We joke that Christmas is the only day off, but it's the truth. Through heat, hail, wind, and rain, we live and breathe running.

When the last bell rings on a Friday afternoon, my classmates leap out of their seats, excited for a wild weekend filled with late-night partying. Unaffected, I walk to the locker room, get changed, tie my sneakers, and start the second part of my day. The homecoming dance is one of the most important events of the year for a typical high school girl. I've missed this weekend every year to compete without any regrets. My friends don't think twice about grabbing a slice of pizza and ice cream sandwich in the cafeteria, but I'm cautious about what I put into my body. An uneasy stomach makes practice miserable and adds valuable seconds to your times, seconds that could make or break you.

Most can't understand our drive and dedication. Why put yourself through so much pain and exhaustion? But in no way is my sport a punishment. In fact, I can't think of anything more rewarding. The exhilaration and pure elation from a runner's high is incomparable. The rush from pushing your body to its absolute limit is indescribable. A strenuous workout rips every ounce of energy from your body, but the emotional release is incredible. But what really makes it all worth it is my team, or my second family. Training, laughing, and crying together, we feel each other's pain and celebrate each other's happiness. We can communicate without words, perfectly attuned to each other's emotions. And now we've traveled across the country to show the nation something really amazing.

The cannon goes off and there is a surge of motion; my legs know what to do. Soon my teammates are lost amongst the stampede of runners, each athlete doing whatever it takes to come out on top. But it's not important to see each other. We're still in sync, working toward a common goal, and it's time to do my part.

I hurdle the hay barrels, power up the hills, and jump the murky puddles. I hear my coach yelling, but can't comprehend, I just run harder. After the three most intense miles of my life, I collapse over the finish line, knowing I gave it my all. But more importantly, six other girls are right there with me. As we embrace one another, nothing needs to be said, we have accomplished something most athletes only dream of.

Together, we stand on the stage, now with a national title to our names. I can't express how thankful I am for this amazing opportunity. All smiles, I wave to my family through a live broadcast. Above all else, I think of my teammates back home who equally deserve such overwhelming recognition. I look down at my uniform, splattered with mud, sweat, and blood, and tear up with pride. We are the Kinetic Running Club, and we believe in the strength of the collective human energy.