A funny thing happened on the way to the cross country state meet in Pasco earlier this month. Blaine’s team was swept with a sudden epidemic of appendicitis.
Maybe epidemic is too strong, as only two runners succumbed, but it wiped out one former state tournament runner and almost did a second. Last year’s 24th-place finisher at state, then junior Tim Bradley, missed the end of this his senior season when his appendix began giving him fits. This included the state meet where he undoubtedly would have done well.
Enter younger brother Tom, who like some medieval prince defending the family’s honor came out of nowhere to excel, placing 13th at the district meet on a muddy South Whidbey trail to move on to state as a freshman, this year finishing 49th at the big show. And he was disappointed: “I knew I could have beaten some of those guys,” he said, a little sadder but wiser for the experience and very much looking forward to next year and a return to the state meet, always held in Pasco.
Kiersten Sigfusson also went to state as a freshman last year after placing fourth at the district meet at South Whidbey. She got a very respectable 24th, same as her team mate Tim Bradley. This year she got sixth at the district meet after having two surgeries over the summer that took away over half her training time. An orthopedic procedure on her arm in June was followed by an appendectomy in July, and this highly competitive if quiet and composed girl was told then that she could not run until the team began practicing in August. This to a person used to running five to eight miles a day to stay in shape.
“The runners work all year,” said head coach Carey Bacon. “Cross County involves a certain amount of natural skill but mostly it’s just a lot of hard work, a lot of running.” In Sigfusson’s case, missing the summer training would put her almost irretrievably behind her peers, and in Whatcom County that’s a recipe for disaster. Four of the first nine teams to place at state are from the Northwest Conference, and to qualify as a team, four of a team’s runners have to finish in the top 20 at the district meet.
But she came back, and did so with panache and a lot of hard work. She ended up with her best time of the year, 19:39, at the league meet at Civic Field and then ran a 20:09 at Pasco to finish 23rd in a field loaded with good runners.
“It was good to be back there,” she said, “but the course was a hard one, a lot of twists, turns and hills. You never got a chance to recover.”
Head coach Carey Bacon said that getting to state from this conference is tough because there are so many teams with depth and experience. “These are two fabulous and dedicated kids,” he said, “and they earned this. With Kiersten we knew she’d have a tough struggle having missed half her training, and Tom basically came out of the blue, coming on strong at the end to take a state berth as well. They’re great to work with, both very coachable.”
Next year Bacon thinks his team will be even stronger despite losing Brittany Kent and Priya Sall to graduation. “We’ll have Perry Olason back, and will have a couple off freshmen. Brad Whitley and Eddie Fontes.”
The 23 member team – 18 boys and five girls – finished 9th overall in league this year. Individuals qualify for state by their results in just one race, the district meet, where a good finish is everything. “It’s all in one basket, that one,” Bacon said. Both Sigfusson and Bradley trained even harder in early November, on one occasion running 16 back-to-back 400-meter sprints – once around Blaine’s running track - as a way of building stamina. “We did all 16 laps in about an hour,” said Sigfusson.
“Bacon’s a great coach, and every day after school that we practice, he’s out there running with us, pushing us and keeping track of our times and pacing. He knows when we’re getting results from our training.”