Runners and their coaches gathered in Bethel this weekend for the high school district's state qualifying cross country competition.
All cross country races begin the same way: with a shot.
(Sound of a starting gun)
The boys race first, sprinting from the starting line with the ringing sound of the gun still in their ears. Unlike last week's race, this day is clear, windless, and the sun shines brightly. The course through Bethel’s sandpits is 3-point-1 miles of hilly terrain through sometimes deep silt. This can be challenging for runners accustomed to training on hard, flat surfaces. Parents and fans cheer excitedly as the boys round the first bend to pass the crowd.
Eugene Alexie from Toksook Bay won last week's boys meet in Bethel. He rounds the bend with a group of other boys; not out front, but still looking strong.
(Crowd fades out, short silence)
(Clicking sound of a clock)
At the finish line, a huge clock keeps time. 14 minutes, 15 minutes, 16 minutes.
Some time after 20 minutes pass, the boys make their way down the final stretch. Eugene Alexie crosses second.
(Cheering crowd yells as boys cross the finish line.)
Carl Charlie from Bethel Regional High School beats Alexie and takes first. We caught up with him after the race and asked him how he felt.
“Better than I did last week. You know, I started slow so I could save some energy and at the end I picked it up more.”
Charlie is a senior at BRHS with hopes of competing at a higher level.
“I’d like to thank my coaches, my teammates, the community of Bethel.”
Eugene Alexie comes in right after Charlie in second place, both qualifying for the state meet.
Bringing up the rear was another young man, Moses Guest from Quinhagak. Guest runs with a buzz cut and a huge smile as the comes down the chute. He says this was the most difficult race he’s ever run.
“Yeah, that was hard. Very hard.”
Guest ran with a little guidance from Ashley Allman.
“I’m Moses’s coach. It’s his first year doing cross country and normally he runs with the cross country team and he’s able to follow people, but for this area because it was so complicated and we had to run it twice, and there were lots of short cuts that we could have taken.
She turns to Guest.
“But did we take any short cuts?”
He shakes his head.
“Nope, no short cuts.”
Allman says Guest just needed a little help this year. Just finishing the race is proof enough that Guest isn’t taking any short cuts in general.
Next up, the high school girls line up at the start. The sun has warmed the sand and the people on it a little. Parents start to shed layers as runners brace themselves in shorts and jerseys.
(Starting gun fires)
No sooner are the girls off, than they disappear around a curve with surprising speed. At the first bend, two girls are far out in front of the pack: Dorothy Bukowski from BRHS, and Jayne Hanna from Nuniwarmiut school in Mekoryuk. Hanna is slightly in front of Bukowski.
The girls appear more competitive than the boys, maybe a little too competitive. While Hanna and
Bukowski are running nearly in sync, two other girls find themselves in a kind of fight. Jersey tugging and a little pushing causes both girls to be disqualified. This would later keep one of them from moving on to the state meet.
On the final lap the leaders have not changed, and if anything, they have put more distance between them and the rest of the girls.
(Ticking clock, cheering fans)
In the last moments of the race, the crowd cheers and the clock seems to tick louder and louder.
(A final cheer from the crowd)
And it’s Jayne Hanna of Mekoryuk who comes first across the finish line. At 16, she’s tall for her age and wears dark sunglasses.
“I’m glad I get the opportunity to run, and getting first is just a bonus. And I’m grateful to God for that.”
As we speak with Hanna, Bukowski finishes and the two exchange brief congratulations. Bukowski says she had a tough race.
“I had a cramp the whole time, but I ran through it.”
For a second, she buries her face in a relative's chest, concealing a tear. But in the next moment she’s smiling, her long dark braided hair bouncing as she walks towards the rest of her team. She will have another chance to run against Hanna at states.
Ten girls and ten boys will represent the region at Bartlett High School during the state championship on October 1. This was the last race in Bethel for the season.
After medals were given and pictures were taken, the race concluded. It started to rain lightly, as if to say “Good job, now go home and take a shower.”
This piece was reported by our entire team of interns, with writing and production help from Adrian Wagner.