While the aspect of traveling hundreds of miles away from home to run miles may be a foreign idea for some, this idea was not lost on Head Boys Cross Cross Country Coach Luis Guillen. His long-time vision to bring both the boys and girls cross country teams to Gatlinburg, Tennessee came to fruition this past week.
“It was a culmination of months of planning, fundraising efforts, and faith that this was going to happen,” Guillen said. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of a great many people within our program and outside of our program.”
The week included team activities, team sessions, motivational talks, and tough, enduring runs in elevations of more than 3,000-5,000 feet in the Smoky Mountains meant to challenge the mental focus of each runner.
“It was one of the best camps I’ve ever been to in my four years of cross country,” Senior Evan Nowak said.
“I’m sad that it was only a week, I don’t want to go home yet,” Sophomore Maddie Venegas stated.
A team effort brought the camp to life, including team parents Amy Stevens and Beth Nowak helping cook food and making sure the runners were well fed and fueled. Former high school coaches Rick and Jackie Torres and former high school standout and local runner Kellyn Vale added their over 50 years of experience running and coaching in breaking down the tough Tennessee terrain for the Wheeler Bearcats.
“Adding the Torres’ and Kellyn was a game changer and added to our great experience here,” Senior Liam Hostetler said.
“Without a doubt, like the old Beatles song goes, ‘you get by with a little help from your friends,’” we are really grateful for everyone that helped with the planning, and execution to bring this experience to Wheeler High School students.” Coach Guillen said.
The week culminated in a tough 5 mile run up to a trail called Grotto Falls making a climb of over 2,000 feet in a single run. From that point on, something magical occurred on the top of the mountain that couldn’t be explained. Like it’s been said before, “For those that have experienced it, no explanation is necessary, but for those that haven’t, no explanation is possible.” With the lessons and skills this team of Bearcats learned this week, it will certainly culminate in something magical this season…