St. Olaf Sentiments: December 4, 2015

“Obsession” is usually the word I use to describe my interest in the St. Olaf men’s cross-country team.

My investment in the sport might make sense if I knew anything about long-distance running. In short, I don’t, except that I personally kind of hate it. My body gives up well before the third mile of a jog, and I’m fine with that. I’ve certainly never been part of a cross-country team, and I’ve only just begun to understand how the scoring system works.

However, these small complications have not stopped me from living vicariously through the Ole men’s DIII athletic experience. For a while, I tried to live out my fascination in secret by memorizing the roster and cheering anonymously at races, but I suspect dressing up as the team for Halloween 2014 may have blown my cover.

It took me a while to really put my finger on what I love about this team. Something told me it wasn’t just their greasy locks or the team-wide effort to make the moustache relevant.

If not their flow, could their matching tattoos be cause for my admiration? Getting inked is cool I guess, but those leg logos are hard to see unless the team dons their short shorts or – ahem – even a little less in public. Unfortunately, neither situation occurs with much frequency. On the contrary, the gents look pretty fresh striding down the Caf aisles in their letter sweaters four times per meal, but I don’t think that’s what sparked my obsession either. After all, everybody and their brother has a sick sweater collection at St. Olaf.

One might think it is the team’s sheer success in recent years that draws my fandom, but I’m not convinced. Their speed actually makes it more difficult for me to keep an eye on them. If I wanted easy targets, the golf team would’ve been more my pace.

It was hours into Facebook stalking the entire roster that I finally realized my fascination doesn’t really stem from the team’s physique or accomplishments, but from the bond between members. The sense of brotherhood exuded by this collection of athletes truly astounds me.

I’ve heard the term “cult” used to describe the incessant amount of time these runners spend together. It’s true, members can be seen eating together, studying together and, of course, running across the countryside together.

For most of us outsiders, it probably seems monotonous to spend so many hours with one group of people, but I think we’re all just a little jealous: jealous of the sense of security this group gives one another, jealous of the continuous sense of support they find in one another’s ranks. We can quickly criticize the way the team “owns” the back left table in the caf, but who among us doesn’t wish we had an unplanned, yet always welcoming place to sit for every meal? Who among us doesn’t wish for a group of friends more akin to family?

I am inclined to believe there is not much these boys wouldn’t give for one another. I can even recall a member stating he’d wished he had spent less time on homework in the last week and more time being present with his teammates during some personal trials. At an institution like St. Olaf where students fight for GPA points left and right, this sentiment struck me.

I wonder what our campus community could be like if we exhibited half as much brotherly love and support as the cross-country team. If a bunch of gawky, greasy-haired boys can rally their talent to take a national championship title, what could we all achieve if we took genuine interest in the causes, concerns and missions of each other?