Why We Play the Game

“Going for the ‘Dub.’ ” You hear it a lot when you hang around Rains. The Dub. The Win. Athletes spend hours, often hitting the pool or lacing up their shoes twice a day, preparing for the match, the game, the race—all in the pursuit of that big Dub. Maybe Annie Lydens PO ’13 is talking about it, trying to get her PPXC squad fired up, or maybe it’s Luke Willert PO ’13, who’s using the phrase like a mantra to encourage his men to glory. And although the end result might not always turn out the way we had planned, it’s generally understood that you can’t Dub without the support of a team.

Lately, there’s been quite a bit of talk about sports. Granted, this is the sports section, so I would hope balls and teams and, hell, maybe some dubs, would make it into the pages. But from Ryan Miller’s call for administrative support of sports, to Alan Mitchell’s op-ed, to the Pomona freshmen who have seemingly made it their duty to instill some school spirit in the Pomona-Pitzer community, Sagehen athletics are getting some press. And for good reason: working hard for something as a member of a team is a great way to prepare student-athletes for the day that they leave the bubble.

Last month, Adam Boardman PO ’01 was inducted into the Pomona-Pitzer Hall of Fame. He was being honored for his contributions to Sagehen running, but in his speech, he had more to say than recounting race times and All-American honors.

“There is something to be said about being really good at something really hard,” Boardman said. “Most people admire it, but won’t really understand it. The good news is that no one can take it from you, and it is a well you can draw from your whole life.”

His words stayed with me for the rest of the weekend, as I digested the events of that Saturday. Earlier that morning, Occidental hosted the NCAA Cross Country Regional Championships at Pomona-Pitzer’s home course. It was a big day for many PPXC runners. Seven men and seven women joined the ranks of over 20 teams from around the West Region to run a highly competitive race. Tickets to the NCAA National meet in Wisconsin were on the line. But there was also the fact that, for many runners, this would be the last race in their collegiate careers. The last time those seven would run as a team.

At the start of the women’s race, seven women stood behind a chalk line in the grass. Box Fourteen. Seven pairs of orange shorts: three spandex, four sets of nylons. Seven navy-and-white Boathouse jackets in a plastic tub with a Sagehen sticker pasted to its white lid. Seven ponytails, one headscarf, and two numbers pinned to each woman’s jersey. “2011 NCAA West Region”, the water-resistant tag read.

To the right of the Sagehen Regional squad stood another group of seven women. Violet and black, their uniforms were hard to read. But the women were standing together, seven strong, behind a line and in front of a stash-box. In box 13, seven women from CMS huddled together, some in spandex, others in nylons. They, too, stood behind a line and in front of a box slapped with a proud Athena mascot. The Hens gathered in a huddle.

“We’re doing it together,” Claire Brickson PO ’14 said with a fervent nod.

Those seven women lifted their arms off one another’s shoulders and each slid a hand into the center.

“Savage chirp on three,” Annie Lydens PO ’13 said. “One, two, three…Chirp!” the seven voices rang out, amidst a background of foreign cheers as the other teams registered their own battle cries. Over a hundred athletes looked out across the field, eyeing the first 200 meters of a daunting 6k race. It was going to be a tough one, the women knew. It was cold, the course was notoriously difficult, and the pack would be fast. But despite all that, the runners also knew that they were in it together.

The NCAA official gave a two-minute warning and the women behind that line started getting nervous, shaking out their legs, stretching their arms. None of this would actually do them much good once the gun rang, but it felt calming, and at that moment, that’s what mattered. The race was difficult, it hurt, there was even some blood shed on the course, but it was worth it for the feeling of accomplishment and camaraderie after crossing the finish line.

As a senior athlete, looking back on a season is bittersweet, and in the heat of sentimentality, we like to think of ourselves and our teams as being entirely unique, as having singular experiences special to just us. We like to think that the people we play with are different and, hey, better, than the other teams out there. We like to think that we earned that big Dub. But as I stood behind that line with six girls I’d spent countless hours running with, joking with, laughing about everything from the corn in Megan’s teeth to last weekend’s antics, I thought how much better it was to realize that my experience wasn’t entirely unique to PPXC—that most of the women on that line, and most of the men and women on the field, in the pool, on the courts and on the track, are out there working hard together. And what a beautiful thing it was to be a part of a tradition and celebration that was not only bigger than myself and my team, but also represented a club that included people from both sides of the field.

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