PEORIA – Runners are creatures of habit. They tend to eat the same thing at the same hour before going through the same pre-race regimen.
“Forty-five minutes you do this. Twenty minutes you do that. Ten minutes you do this,” Newman coach Val Gassman said after the Class 1A races Saturday at the state cross country meet at Detweiller Park. “It’s all based on preparation, and that got thrown out.”
Unplugged might be the more appropriate action verb.
Mere seconds before the starting gun was supposed to trigger the event-opening girls race, the power went out at the starting line. That rendered all the tracking systems useless. And even thereafter, the timing strips’ reluctance to sense the timing chips made for a day full of delays.
It was déjà vu all over again for Rock Falls’ Makaley Velazquez and Amboy’s Megan Grady, whose sectional meet in Oregon was nearly postponed by an outage the Saturday prior.
At the state meet, hundreds of girls flocked to their jackets. It might have actually helped a tear-eyed Grady, who could be seen laughing along the fence where she chatted with her uncle, Dixon High School principal/running aficionado Mike Grady.
“He just said, ‘You know what? You’re supposed to be here. You belong here,’” Grady said.
Despite managing the butterflies leading into its race, Newman’s camp admired the field’s vigilance.
“I couldn’t believe how they handled that pressure. Just brilliant,” Gassman said. “And the young lady, oh my God, the way she came up the hill…she was cruising.”
That would be the freakishly fast Anna Sophia Keller, who brought a glimmer to junior Bryson Reyes’ eye.
“Anna Sophia Keller is amazing. She’s phenomenal,” Reyes said. “For all the girls to adjust, that’s pretty unique for them to run the way that they did.”
He’s seen her run throughout junior high races, and has a theory on the violent head-bobbing she exhibited down the homestretch.
“She always did that,” Reyes said. “I think her family swims a lot, and I think she gets it from that.”
As for the race’s start, half an hour after the announced outage, that was a mixed bag for Grady.
“When the gun shot off, it was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t that bad,’” she said. “Then it kind of set in that I have to run the whole thing.”