On Tuesday, Oct. 24, sophomore Brendan Creeks spent the last hundred yards of his cross country race stumbling and crawling to the finish, barely getting one hand across the line before race officials had to carry him off the course. He earned first place, finishing just three seconds before the next runner, before completely collapsing.
“I went too hard and my body just stopped working,” Creeks said, who vomited, but did not require further medical treatment after rehydrating.
On race day, temperatures topped off in the low nineties and Hallmark Park, a cross country course in Belmont that is notoriously difficult even in mild weather.
“You feel like you are melting,” sophomore Sonja Dommen said, describing race day. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Hallmark Park, otherwise known as the Crystal Springs Cross Country Course, is a 2.95 mile dirt track with multiple difficult hills. The course is considered the most arduous in the area.
“Imagine a desert with a few shrubs in the middle of the Belmont Hills,” Dommen said.
Coach Steve O’Brien was worried even before the races began. The heat index for the day, which is the combination of temperature and humidity, was coming perilously close to 160, the number that requires officials either to call off the race or take special precautions to protect runners from developing medical issues. O’Brien favored postponing the race.
“Tuesday was one of the toughest days I have ever seen,” said O’Brien, who has been coaching for 28 years. “Probably more young people got taken off in ambulances than any other meet I have been to.”
O’Brien estimates about seven runners between the 17 schools competing had to be taken off the course and rushed to a hospital. It could have been worse because there were hundreds of runners on the course that day.
Juniors Margaret Barber, Makenna Mahrer and Jessica Masterson ended up having to stop their race part way through to help a Terra Nova runner who was struggling.
“When we got to her it was obvious that she was having trouble breathing and likely dehydrated,” Barber said. “I sat next to her and put her arm around my shoulder to keep her upright while the other girls asked her questions to make sure she was responding properly.”
Eventually a parent found the group and called race organizers to get the student much-needed medical attention.
Despite the evident difficulty of the course, Hallmark Park is an iconic track for high school runners.
“It’s a course that I think a high school athlete will always remember their experience up there because of all the people that have run before them, the past Panthers and past people from other schools,” O’Brien said. “There’s a lot of history.”
Despite this experience, Creeks plans to keep competing and even showed up to practice the day after his race.