XC Nationals Preview: Getting There Not Fun

By Doug Fitzgerald published November 17, 2006

Whoever said "getting there is half the fun" never traveled with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's cross country team.

As the Mountain Lions prepare for Saturday's NCAA Division II National Cross Country Championships, they'll be trying to discard memories of the journey to Pensacola, Fl., the site of the NCAA Division II Fall Sports Festival.

Someday, it will make a humorous anecdote for the women on the team. Someday is not today.

This is not to refer to the journey to qualify for nationals. That was a carefully orchestrated strategy designed to match elite athletes with their peak performances. That journey, conceived by coach Graeme Badger and executed by the athletes themselves, was a success. The Mountain Lions' presence at nationals is proof of that.

But the physical act of GETTING TO nationals well, that's a whole different story.

It all began on 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Wake up, turn on the Weather Channel, and the first thing you hear is, "the severe weather in the Pensacola area should continue throughout the day, with heavy rains and possibly tornadoes."

Not good news.

The team arrived at the Colorado Springs Airport at 7:30 a.m. only to find their flight to Dallas had been cancelled. They caught an 11:30 a.m. flight to Houston instead. With so many flights headed to Houston, the team's plane had to circle so long they ran low on fuel. The plane landed in College Station to refuel and finally got to Houston at 4 p.m.

When the Mountain Lions made it to Houston, they encountered more delays. They also discovered that smoking is still allowed in Airports in Texas. Tired and nauseous from secondhand smoke, the team finally got the news at 10:30 p.m. that remaining flights had been cancelled.

Only assistant coach Sandra Badger made it through to Mobile, Ala., the only airport to which the team could be rerouted. Not knowing whether the rest of the team would be able to make it that night, she rented a van and headed for the team's hotel in Pensacola, which was an hour and a half away.

While Sandra Badger drove, head coach Graeme Badger got the news of the flight cancellation. He called hotel after hotel, but no room could be found. Finally, after a tip from an airport employee, he had the first stroke of luck of the day.

Luck, though, is a subjective term. The Scottish Inn in Houston proved that.

"We took Fiesta Taxi (the name of the company) to this seedy-looking motel with a flashing neon light and palm trees," said Shannon Payne. "The innkeeper, who was Indian, not Scottish, told us "you can see the stars through your ceiling."

There were black lights in one corner that projected marine life on the walls and the midnight sky on the ceiling. The other room had a large Jacuzzi surrounded by mirrors. Apparently, the airport employee who gave the tip was accustomed to renting rooms by the hour, not the night.

Their adventure at the Scottish Inn behind them, the team returned to the airport and was finally able to get passage to Mobile. Sandra Badger met them there and they drove to Pensacola.

But they drove without their baggage. That, unfortunately, was still in Houston. While it arrived later Thursday evening, it came too late for the team to work out. That meant it had been two full days without a decent run, diminishing the results of months of carefully planned workouts and preparation.

"We ran around the airport in Colorado Springs," said Ashley Birger. "It's a good thing we did because we didn't have another chance."

There was one other problem. The team was forced to rent vehicles in Mobile in order to drive to Pensacola. Of course, they also had vehicle reservations in Pensacola. Since they are flying out of Pensacola on Sunday, the Mobile vehicles had to be returned. Thus, Sandra Badger made her third trip between the cities, this time with Graeme Badger and assistant athletic director Doug Fitzgerald (who had his own circuitous trip very early Wednesday). The vehicles were dropped off and Fitzgerald drove the weary coaches back across the Florida state line.

With the travel mess behind them, the Mountain Lions finally got a chance to work out at the race course Friday morning. The 6-kilometer women's race course at the Pensacola Equestrian Center is varied and interesting. The first 300 meters are flat with short grass. Teams starting on the far left side will encounter some uneven ground but nothing too severe.

As the course narrows, the teams will skirt a small pond and enter a sandy trail that winds through a pine forest. They emerge from the forest at the other end of the Equestrian Center, more flats, two sharp turns and a final sprint to the finish. The course isn't very hilly, but does offer some varied terrain.

"It's going to be fast," said Payne. "I think we're going to take down some records."

Finally, after so much inactivity, a chance to run. It gave the team a return to normalcy.

At least until the TV people became involved.

CBS, which is covering the event, had arranged to do a story on UCCS senior Sarah Shepard, who overcame heart surgery to become an All-American. The CBS folks fell behind schedule, though, and the interviews took longer than expected.

With the coaches needing to get to a Pensacola Beach hotel, 35 minutes away, Fitzgerald arranged for he and Shepard to bum a ride back to the team hotel, releasing the rest of the team. The Badgers made it to the coaches' meeting, barely in time, and the rest of the team got a chance to explore Pensacola Beach for a couple of hours. Shepard and Fitzgerald joined the team about an hour later.

The team ate at Macaroni Grill Friday evening, where the girls convinced a nice-looking young man who worked there to serenade them with an Italian version of "Happy Birthday" even though it was nobody's birthday. Seven smiling girls can usually talk a young man into doing most anything.

Of course, they have to get there first.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

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