We are excited to share Part II of rabbitPRO Rachel Schilkowsky's multi-part blog series sharing her experience at XC Nationals and representing Team USA:
It’s just a uniform.
Just a few articles of clothing.
A couple square feet of blue and white fabric.
But yet, it’s so much more.
As I staggered around the finishing area, a pit began to form in my stomach. I was 9th. They take 6. It was conceivable to think that two of the women ahead of me would decline their spots. The 1st and 4th place finishers were Olympians; surely the NACAC XC Championships – a decidedly smaller, far less prestigious, and somewhat ill-timed international competition – was unlikely to fit into their season’s training schedule. But even if both of them declined, I would still be the first one out.
I looked around at the other women who had finished in front of me. Two were my teammates, both of whom I was fairly certain would accept their spots. Two were other runners who would also be making their first US team should they accept, so I was pretty sure they were in too. That left two women and two spots. One, the woman who had finished 2nd, was one of America’s best up-and-coming distance runners. She had led Team USA back in January at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country race in Scotland. The other, who had finished 3rd, was one of America’s top marathoners. She had competed for Team USA multiple times, including at the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. The odds seemed slim.
My heart sank.
On my way over to the awards podium, I overheard one of the Olympians being interviewed. It was confirmed - neither she nor her fellow Olympian teammate would accept their spots. This registered in my brain, but it did improve the situation. If anything, it made things a bit worse. It probably would have been better if they had accepted their spots. Being the second or third one out might hurt less than being the first.
Yes, I had run a great race to secure 9th place, but it wasn't going to be enough. Immediately the negative, self-critical thoughts began. "You should have gone out with that pack." "You didn't even put yourself in it." "Why didn't you try harder to bridge the gap and run people down?" "You came all the way down here and wasted an opportunity".
For a few minutes, I let myself become consumed by disappointment, but then I thought about everything that had happened over the last few month, of all my struggles with the hamstring injury that simply would not go away.
- The disappointment of the initial injury in September.
- The frustration of the re-injury in October.
- The hopelessness I felt when I had to drop out of the USATF-NE XC Championships in November because I had torn some scar tissue.
- The sadness of being at the USATF Club XC Championships in December, but knowing I was nowhere near ready to race or compete for a spot on the Edinburgh team.
- The despair I felt when the snow and freezing cold temperatures in early January re-aggravated the scar tissue.
- The panic I felt when, on January 25th, 10 days before the USATF XC Championships, I had yet another flare-up.
So much lost training. So many missed opportunities. So many tears.
The fact that I had actually made it to the starting line in one piece was astounding. The fact that I had somehow managed to have a successful race was an absolute miracle.The last four months had been a complete and utter disaster but through it all, I had still accomplished something great. I had kept fighting and dreaming. I had never given up. In that moment I decided that, regardless of whether or not I made the team, I was going to be proud of myself. I had given everything I had in the race and if that wasn't enough, then I would accept it.
During this epiphany I was so completely lost in thought that I didn't notice my teammate walk over to where I was standing and begin speaking. I stared at her blankly for several moments before I finally comprehended was she was saying.
"She's not going".
"Who?", I asked, my focus now crystal clear.
"The woman who got 2nd. She isn't going to accept her spot."
And then, just in case that first bit of gossip had been untrue, I heard from someone else behind me that the 3rd place finisher, the marathoner, was also planning on declining her spot. In the span of 10 seconds I went from being the first one out to possibly being the 5th of 6th people to make the team. At first I didn't want to believe it. I hadn't directly heard either woman confirm this information, so I was extremely hesitant to get my hopes up. But when all Top 10 women were finally gathered for the awards ceremony, I heard it with my own two ears.
Though the declaration process had not yet taken place yet, and it was not yet official, it was all but certain: I would be going to the NACAC Cross Country Championships in El Salvador. For the first time in my life, I would be representing the United States of American in international competition.
I would get to wear that uniform, that beautiful blue and white uniform with the three big letters written across the front.