Snowflakes, mud and perseverance abounded on November 10, as a trio of Huskies runners represented George Brown College at the 2018 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Cross Country National Championships.
Hosted by Seneca College at the school's King Campus, a well-regarded course on the Ontario circuit, the day saw Angelee Weathers and Leanne Sanders run the women's 6 kilometre race at 12 p.m., followed by Garrick Loewen taking on the men's 8 kilometre event at 1 p.m.
For those with a fondness of wind and winter, it was a beautiful day. The weather vexed between seasons, as temperatures dipped below freezing and snow flurries came and went as they pleased.
"The weather conditions today were cold, snowing, lots of mud and everything," said Weathers. "It did kind of affect the race; I was still really cold during the race. But it's one of the things you have to face during a cross country season, and you just have to power through it."
The only thing stiffer than the winds was the competition. Still, in a field of 121 of the nation's best, Weathers and Sanders acquitted themselves well.
Whether off the field or in the results tallies, the two have been close all season long and yesterday was no different. Weathers finished with a time of 27:10, good for 60th overall, followed by Sanders not far behind in 76th after 27:51.
Even that close spread overstates the distance between them throughout the race.
"It was a really good experience," Weathers said of running with her Huskies counterpart. "We were talking to each other during the race, 'You can do it', 'Keep going, you got this.' "
Following the Centennial Invitational on Oct. 13, Sanders had mentioned how hills were an area where her teammate was a positive force, pushing and motivating her. And sure enough, Saturday featured that dynamic once more.
"At one point she came up and we were going up a hill, and it's those hills for me, and she goes, 'Come with me, come with me,' " recounted Sanders. "Having that encouragement, that boost to get up the hill where I would have backed off a bit, those extra seconds... seeing her at the top of the hill and saying to myself, 'What am I doing at the bottom of the hill and she's all the way up there!'
"I definitely love having that close relationship with a teammate and that talk throughout the course."
It's a relationship which will continue in 2019, as both Weathers and Sanders are slated to return. The goal now is to return to nationals next season, and to do so as George Brown did in 2017: Not as individual runners, but a full team.
"I'm really looking forward to it," smiled Sanders. "A lot of the time when we start a cross country season, it's a brand new team, brand new people but we've got a lot returning and I'm really looking forward to working with this team."
The late American author Og Mandino once wrote, "Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough." Saturday afternoon saw Huskies runner Garrick Loewen live those words.
Having made a name for himself as George Brown's top-flight men's runner this season, one primed to be a cornerstone for seasons to come, the stage was set for Loewen to end his remarkable Huskies debut on a high note. And he did, though not in the manner originally intended.
By time of the men's race, the snow and runners had combined to make for a minor mudfest. It was in those conditions (plus a perfectly timed snow shower) that GBC's sole men's standard-bearer fell victim to a disastrous start, tumbling to the ground metres away from the starting line.
"When you're going down, it's like it's in slow motion," said Loewen. "First thing that went through my mind was 'How am I going to get up once I hit the ground and keep rolling?' You just have to roll with the punches."
The fall's aftermath saw the LaSalle, Ontario native at the back of the 126-strong pack. In an at-times lonely sport, where mentality and inner monologues can make or break a performance, some might call that an unenviable position.
Loewen, on the other hand, had the field exactly where he wanted them.
"Sometimes it's fun to fight from the back," he said with a laugh. "It'd be boring if you started on an even playing field with everybody every race, right? Sometimes you've got to start in 126th and move your way up."
And so the Huskies runner dusted himself off and ran hard, knowing, as the student-athlete explained, he had nothing to lose.
"He's a fighter," said Huskies head coach Nelson Njeru, who was full of praise for Loewen. "… We were very, very impressed by him, starting from the back, the last person at the starting line, closing the gap in five kilometres, getting past all those people with all the obstacles.
"600 metres from the starting there's a funnel that is extremely single track, and it's very difficult for you if you miss a step to pass people there, and he managed to do that. We were very happy and just so impressed to see how much effort he used to close the gap."
On a course where there are limited opportunities to pass the competition, Loewen did so in spades, an exercise in both necessity and his own ability. So outstanding was his charge up the field, one might never have known it was the inverse of Plan A.
By time he crossed the finish line, Loewen had worked his way back up to 31st with a time of 29:55.
The never say die attitude on full display yesterday won't be going away any time soon, with Loewen slated to return next year. For his part, Loewen credited the support around him for helping to motivate his refusal to give in, support which he wholeheartedly believes in moving forward.
"We've got such a great program here, with great coaching, a great athletic director, great coordinator," said Loewen. "Everything's in place, really, to make a dynasty program, to make a real competitive squad."
For complete results of the women's race, click here.
For complete results of the men's race, click here.