If the Erie-Prophetstown boys cross country co-op ever ever considers adopting a sport-specific nickname, the Good Samaritans would be a fine candidate.
Last winter, Erie senior Connor Saad hurt his hip during the basketball season. He missed out on valuable training during the past summer and, when cross country season arrived, he was severely pronating in his gait, his right foot turned outward about 45 degrees.
Before the first meet arrived, Saad succumbed to intensifying pain. A visit to the doctor revealed an injured IT band along the outside of his right thigh.
He tested the leg at two meets, including the Three Rivers Invite on Sept. 25 in Walnut, as well as in lighter practices.
"It's just not very cool watching your friend being hurt," Prophetstown senior Devin Johnson said. "Even if he wasn't one of our best friends, it would still suck for anybody to have to go through, especially in their last year and everything. When it's one of your friends, it's really … it sucks."
The pain persisted, eliminating any possibility of Saad helping his longtime friends Josh Green and Johnson improve on a 2011 season that saw them ride a regional title all the way to the program's first team state berth in about 30 years.
Johnson spoke for the group at Erie High School Thursday evening, saying it was underwhelmed by a fifth-place finish at the Oregon Sectional and a 16th-place showing at state.
But there was always next year.
"After last year, I remember being on the bus ride home and thinking we could actually be even better this year, especially with the three of us coming back," Saad said.
Then Matthew Mallary transferred to Alleman.
"When we found out Matt wasn't going here anymore and I wasn't healthy, it just kind of killed all our dreams. For this year, anyway," Saad said.
It was going to take a lot more than that to break the Panthers' spirit. Last Saturday, back at the site of the state meet, Johnson and Green ran alongside their injured comrade.
"To run your last race – obviously I didn't want it to end there – but to have these guys, who I've been running with since, [Josh] my freshman year, [Devin] my sophomore year, it was definitely something special," Saad said.
"It was definitely enjoyable," added Green, who came up with the idea of the three running together. "For the past 4 years, Connor and I have been pretty close together. At the state meet, there's pictures of us where we're side by side in most of them. Until the last 400, when he outkicks me."
Every year, the team treats the Patriot Invite as a chance to help others set personal records. Most often, they help junior-varsity members of the program. On Saturday, the mark was Seth Dennis of Abingdon, who was laboring at the midway point.
"I was thinking, it's the last race, what do I have to lose? Well, we got to a mile and a half and I was gassed, and these guys were still chatting away," Saad said.
Intrigued as to why they had the wind in their lungs to chat, Dennis asked what they were talking about. They were discussing PRs. Dennis shared his with them, audibly discouraged.
"We said, 'Come on with us. We'll see if we can't get you a beter time,' " Green said.
Their coach, Elizabeth Green, had urged Saad to take it easy, so as to not do anything that would jeopardize his hoops season.
So one could imagine her mixed emotions when she saw Saad crushing the last few hundred meters.
"It was really cool, and at first I was kind of panicked because the other two were coming in so late," Coach Green said.
"They stuck with Seth," Saad said, as all three broke out laughing.
"I was proud of them for picking him up, telling him he could do it, and sticking with him," Coach Green said.
Saad didn't need any help at that point. He was going out with guns blazing.
"Connor was trying to get it; he was trying to finish his race, so we were like, 'Go ahead; we're not gonna stop you,' " Johnson said.
Green and the runners' parents were sure to take lots of pictures of the selfless scene, three young men defining friendship and loyalty.
"Obviously it's pretty emotional, just for the fact that they're my son's friends, and they've been friends for so long," Coach Green. "It brought a tear to my eye, and I had to take some photos – one for them to remember as they move on to college."
Saad's injury isn't the only season-ending one hampering the Panthers. Find out what Coach Green thinks about the team's postseason prospects at saukvalley.com/blogs/extra-extra/