Love Wins The Race

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Moriah Steinbrecher embraces teammate Catelin King after the State Championship Cross-Country race.

Photo Credit: Mrs. Diane Steinbrecher

Catelin King won the district cross-country the week before the state cross-country championships leading her team to victory by finishing 15 seconds ahead of the individual who would finish second in the Washington State Cross-Country Champions in 2022.

It was Catelin's best-ever high school cross-country race. She looked strong and was one of the contenders for an individual state title the following week at the state championships in Pasco.                                                                                                                     

Catelin was our number-one runner all year, going into the state cross-country championships. Catelin is a superb, mentally strong runner who is the picture of consistency.

Catelin's teammate, fellow senior Moriah Steinbrecher, had this to say about Catelin:

"This season, Catelin was an unstoppable force. In my first race of the season, she led with grace and confidence that I felt myself choke up with pride and admiration. Throughout the next races, I always had faith in her. I never once doubted that she would pull through with a determination I have seldom seen in anyone.

Focused on my goals, I barely noticed the pressures we heaped on her shoulders. If I could not run a great race, Catelin would pull us through; if one of the girls twisted an ankle, Catelin could run a little faster. Her form, tiny in the distance in front of me, became an anchor I relied upon unconsciously. It was not a thought in my mind, not even a wisp of cloud at the edge of my sky-blue expectations that she wouldn't lead us to victory".

Going into the state championships, our team was one of three that looked like they could compete for the state title. With Catelin as our lead runner, there was a quiet assurance that everything would be okay and we would compete well. She is amazing and respected on so many different levels.

On To The 2022 State Cross-Country Championship Race

We traveled to the state championship race in Pasco and ran the race course the night before to get a feel once again for the state course. Our pre-race run went well as we finished the run.

That night at the team meeting, we had extraordinary conversations as team members shared their strategies about running the state course; they also said words of encouragement to each other and prayed, as I've rarely seen a team pray, with heartfelt prayers of encouragement, love, and protection.

Race day came fast. Catelin and her team were ready.

We walked our runners to the starting line and positioned ourselves on the course, waiting for the starter to get the race underway. The race horn finally sounded. Catelin and her team sprinted at the start establishing their place in the race.

I sprinted to my position on the back side of the course with a swarm of fans and coaches. We waited for the runners to come by so we could shout words of encouragement. 

The Unimaginable Happens

A little after mile two, the unimaginable happened; Catelin, as I found out later, was lying on the ground for a few minutes, unable to run; the recipient of a rare condition, as we would learn later, led to her collapse. 

Some saw her fall right away while others, like me, were on the other end of the course, waiting for runners to come by in the last mile. Catelin's teammates began to pass her one by one.

Moriah very clearly remembers her thoughts and feelings as she passed Catelin:

"The beginning of the State race was unremarkable. Catelin quickly left my field of vision and became a distant assurance: if I was passed, Catelin was still far ahead. As I passed the two-mile mark, I felt my already labored breathing stop for a moment. About 200 meters in front of me was Catelin. I stared for what felt like minutes, unable to find her normal loping strong stride. She was struggling.

As I took a turn, I glanced down to find a broken girl on the ground.  Eyes closed, limbs splayed, a grimace of pain, an official bending down. My legs moved of their own accord, pulling me past, but my heart fell to the ground next to my friend. My eyes went blind for the next strides, entirely focused on the questions racing through my mind. The victim lying down on the course couldn't be the powerful, unstoppable, unendingly energetic Catelin…

The Dream Of Winning State Begins To Fade

"A selfish part of me insisted that the race was over. We had no chance, and our dream of a senior win was crushed. I coasted in despair.

In the last part of the race, though, Catelin's struggle returned to my mind in full force.

I've felt like the person who lost everything for the team. Catelin was going to think that, I knew, because of her nature. She was going to finish the race, and if we lost, she would say it was her fault.

I knew she would blame herself. And I didn't want that for Catelin. So I passed runners, and the other girls passed runners, and we pushed hard for the finish knowing we had a slim chance of winning with our number one runner down, but we were going to be the legs of our teammate who could barely walk, let alone run.."

As the team's coach, I waited and waited out on the course but did not see Catelin. Many runners went by, but there was no Catelin. I knew something was wrong when Catelin was not in sight as a sea of runners ran by me.

I finally saw Catelin come by me after seeing the rest of our team run by; Catelin was in the back of the pack due to her collapse earlier in the race.   

I also saw this unusual determined, and focused expression on the rest of our girl's teams' faces. I was confused about what was going on with Catelin and the team.

The Finish Line

I immediately sprinted to the finish line as fast as possible to see if Catelin was all right. Catelin and the entire team were already there; the team embraced her and checked on her to ensure she was okay. Catelin somehow found a way to finish the race.

Moriah remembers well her feelings as Catelin crossed the line:

"I had seen her lying in the grass beside the course as I ran, and my heart was wild with anxiety and fear.

When she finally emerged into the finishers' chute, I rushed to her, undeterred by the anguish written across her face. As I embraced her, she sobbed into me, an unending plea of "I'm sorry; I'm so sorry." I was given no divine words of eloquence or empathy, or inspiration. But they were not necessary. The language that rose to my lips came from the heart: "We love you; we love you; we love you."

All you could feel at the finish line was the love and concern of Catelin's parents, teammates, and others in a frenzy at the finish line for Catelin.

Catelin's sister, Lindsay, was visibly upset and concerned about her big sister as she waited for her to cross the finish line. It was a sweet, pure, unscripted moment of love and concern that I'll never forget.                                                                                                 

Imagine Catelin's parents waiting to see their daughter after falling. The stress of not knowing why she collapsed at the time was heart-wrenching for them.

On the racing side of things, most of our scoring runners had miraculously passed our competing teams' runners in about the last 200-400 meters of the race as they sprinted to the finish line waiting for Catelin.

Moriah, with all her extra determination, love, and concern for her teammate, ended up as the number one runner on our team.

One Mom's Perspective Of What She Saw

Diane Steinbrecher, Moriah's mom, captured the essence of the impact of what many other parents saw that day as the race unfolded:

"This state race couldn't have been more impactful.  As parents watching, we knew when to expect each runner to come into view, and when Catelin didn't emerge, we knew something was seriously wrong.

While we asked, 'Where's Catelin?', we also saw the incredible fortitude of the other girls, fighting for each pass, especially when they neared the finish line. 

My daughter had high individual hopes for this race, the last of her high school career, a chance to push out of some past adversity and end with a great race.  The moment she saw Catelin down, that motivation changed.  She knew how awful Catelin would feel if the team didn't win, that she would try to carry that burden alone.  So Moriah pushed herself harder than ever. They had all finished when Catelin came through the finisher's chute, and the response was immediate.  The girls embraced and supported her, emotionally and physically, as her whole body fell against them.  They held each other and cried together, finally bringing her out to her parents. 

There was no me, no individual, there that day…only a team. They were only laying down their heart and soul for others.

Personal accolades weren't important anymore - only what they had accomplished together. When they climbed the podium, they all pushed Catelin to the top and put the trophy in her hands. I imagine every parent had a lump in their throat and a tear in their eye.                                                                                               

As a parent, you think your child won't understand unconditional love until they have their children.  But here it unfolded before our eyes; complete selfless love". 

The Final Word: Catelin Sees The Race Through The Lens Of Faith                                                                                                   

Catelin, as you can imagine, had a host of emotions as she reflected on and recapped her race. Catelin had the final word on the many lessons of the day. 

"I hadn't lost a league race this season, and the week prior, I upset the favored district champion by a full 15 seconds. After four intensely motivated cross-country seasons, I could finally climb to the top of the state podium. The state championship race started, and I confidently pushed the pace with the best runners of our statewide division. This race was a dead heat—every place we shaved off would count immensely.

But unexpected tragedy struck. My legs collapsed, and my head felt nauseatingly dizzy; barely 1500 meters stretched ahead. I fell instantly from the top pack; I found myself among the last dozen racers. My legs couldn't move. Convinced I'd ruined the race for my team because of these long minutes on the ground, I could barely finish the race.

Racing gasps turned to weeping gasps; I was angry, untriumphant, ashamed, and weak. I wasn't this conquering hero overcoming struggle. But what did I find at the end?

My team, crying for my bitter finale to high school cross country, coming to hug me. Later, my coach's wife offered me a new view, presenting my failure and disappointment through the lens of faith.

God's gift to me wasn't granting me a winning performance but expressing His gift of love. I saw that love from my parents, team, my coach, and my coach's wife.

These people don't see me in what I do or how well I do it—they just love. The sport is about winning; the team, effort, and glory of God aren't.

Later, I was diagnosed with a deficiency and near-syncope. I'd focused on winning, confident in my skill, but this simple self-reliance was inadequate.

No effort of mine could have fixed this; I was forced to rely on the team. Life sometimes doesn't grant our desires, but it offers us opportunities to see God through ordeals. It's impossible to see the bright side of great disappointment without faith. Faith is belief and trust—belief that the dark isn't always unlightable and that God knows what He's doing.

Also—we still won. By one point. The power of God".

Blessings,

Coach Weber

Philippians 4:13     

Special thanks to Catelin and the King family for the opportuntity to share her story.

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The JPII Girls team celebrates after their one-point win. The girls also celebrated their third consecutive state cross-country championship. 2022 Varsity Seven: Catelin King, Moriah Steinbrecher, Addie Hecht, Taylor Ames, Isabella Salvador, Isabella Kondrat, Amy Kondrat. State Alternates:  Lucy Kondrat, Ariel Brewer

Other Team Members on the podium who came to support the team: Elena Valapiani, Keira Camp, Tani Steinbrecher

Photo Credit: The WIAA

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   There was nothing but hugs and love for teammates at the finish line.

     Photo Credit: Mrs. Diane Steinbrecher

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I will forever remember the 2022  state championship race because of the incredible love and care that all teammates displayed. The best of the human spirit resulted in a miraculous team finish. And fortunately, the problem Catelin experienced on race day was not a serious long-term issue.

Moriah drew this picture to immortalize this profound moment of friendship. She did a great job.

Photo Credit:  Moriah Steinbrecher