There’s a myth that philosophy professors sometimes tell about Rene Descartes and the birth of modern thought. It is said that the celebrated mathematician, sometime around 1619, began to doubt himself. For Descartes, doubt was a serious problem, for he wasn’t just doubting his intelligence or acumen—he was doubting reality itself. “How can I be sure of anything?” he asked. “I could be asleep, dreaming, or even dead.” These are the thoughts that lead men to desperate acts, and sometimes even to genius.
So Descartes did what any of us would do—he found a large German bread oven and climbed inside it like a makeshift sauna. There he sat, literally baking himself, pursuing the sort of reality-bending states of exhaustion he had read descriptions of among Native American vision quests. One can imagine the diminutive Frenchman dripping with sweat, staring at his hands, thinking, “This is happening. This is real.”
It was hard not to think of Descartes on Saturday at Detweiller Park. As the sun climbed the sky and the field began to crisp, doubts multiplied. One week removed from the mud and rain of St. Louis, we began to question our fitness, our preparation, our strength of vision. Elite athletes pawed the dusty earth eagerly, and celebrated teams took their final runouts in unison, their carriage upright and certain. This was Illinois, the heart of Cross Country nation. This was happening.
The Varsity Race lived up to the hype, with Wheaton-Warrenville South dominating the lead packs. Once again, Michael Madiol (15:04) and Chris Keeley (15:04) set a brisk early pace, trailed boldly by the untested sophomore Nick Dovalovsky (15:27). Seniors Matt Jett (15:34) and Michael O’Connor (15:35) paired up early on, with Nick Drechsler (15:48) and Spencer Teske (16:02) fighting through some initial separation. Detweiller’s famous trapezoid is perfectly positioned to test racers, depriving them at the midpoint of crowd support and coaching. In the unwatched quarter mile beyond the treeline, each runner silently wrestles with doubt, this time sapped with every arm-swing by the sweltering sun.
Exploding out of the copses, the Wildcats pushed furiously into the third mile, and team running helped overcome the absence of a low stick. Keeley and Madiol crossed together, followed by a leg-spent Dovalovsky. Jett and O’Connor similarly came through united, the five of them all earning medals for the effort. We were a proud and fortunate third place, solid marks for our first Illinois test, with plenty of work still to be done.
The sophomores took the field next, with the sun a little higher and the course a little flatter. Despite the hundreds of miles spent in preparation, there’s something about staring at the bunting in the northwest corner of Detweiller that shakes the legs and resolve of young runners. Any trepidation, however, was quelled early on by Vasant Fong (15:55), who ran a smart, disciplined race. Leif Anderson (16:15) ran with added aggressiveness; Brian Jett (16:16) with greater poise; and Ryan Horn (16:20) with renewed confidence. Luke Mennecke (16:31) once again demonstrated impressive reserves of determination, closing the door for a second place team finish, then collapsing just outside the finish line, mouth opening and closing in exhaustion. Luke Suman (16:52) and Stephen Smilie (17:06) both set lifetime PRs, a comforting reminder that though it’s always wise to fear a three mile race, they need not doubt their training or preparation.
The Open Race began just before noon, the sun at its zenith, with little shade to cover us. The tilt contained every possible Cross Country story, from the last-chance power-drives of cagey seniors to the wide-eyed debuts of newly-minted freshmen. And while each had their own narrative, their purposes overlapped. Led by the flinty trio of seniors Kevin Daneliak (16:03), Jack Orengo (16:13), and Blake Storoe (16:15) the Wildcats packed the scorebox early and convincingly. Junior Quinn Kennedy (16:47) ran a gutsy race early, only to be joined at the end by a surging Ramsay Johnson (16:38). The finishes were particularly stirring, as freshmen Charlie Rook (17:04) dueled Noah Schalliol (17:05), Erik Thompson (17:41) demonstrated a veteran’s composure and Austin Burke (18:33) a sprinter’s form. Freshmen Sachin Fong (17:36), Nathanael Howard (17:44), Liam Dorsey (18:10), Alex Del Genio (19:06), Jacob Nauman (19:23), Adam Johnson (19:26), Andrew Gutierrez (19:51), Nick Rokosz (19:52), David He (20:06), Ben Serna (20:11), and Henry Golden (20:28) all showed Detweiller promise, while sophomores JD Hastings (18:09), William Fu (18:09), Daniel Gutierrez (18:34), and Dominick Grammarosso (18:33) revealed the benefits of a year’s seasoning. Juniors Josh Rodriguez (17:32), Sam Stuart (17:33), Ethan Lockwood (18:52), and Joey Spencer (19:09) raced with courage, while Patrick Kelly (19:44), Sahil Yemul (18:37), Nate Spencer (19:30), and Joseph Klaips (20:14) all ran with the dignity befitting their seniority.
The legend says that Rene Descartes emerged from his kiln with an unassailable certainty, proclaiming “Cogito, ergo sum”: “I think, therefore I am.” He was dehydrated, exhausted, and spent, but he would not doubt again. Detweiller was not quite an oven, and our Saturday will not change the course of Western thought. But we were different afterwards, carrying a burgeoning conviction that seemed to speak through our posture and our eyes. “This is happening,” it seemed to say. “This is real.”