Behind the starting line at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington, nearly 700 runners made their final preparations for the NAIA Cross Country National Championships. Over 1,500 fans from near and far lined the course as student-athletes made their journey through the park’s historic Parade Ground and Great Meadow.
Dave Haglund, Commissioner for the Cascade Collegiate Conference, and Matt English, Athletics Director at Concordia University (Ore.), made the push to bring the national championship to the Pacific Northwest in 2009 and currently retain host duties through 2012. According to co-hosts the NAIA Cross Country National Championship isn’t just a race, it is an experience.
“We strive to create an experience that is memorable and unique,” said Haglund. “Participation in a national championship is a big deal for these student-athletes. For many it may be their one and only opportunity to compete on the national stage. We’ve tried to build experiences that are attractive to the student-athlete beyond the race itself.”
The multi-day event pulsated with lessons both on and off the course. Student-athletes took a break in race day prep and participated in Champions of Character community outreach events, attended movie night at the Hilton Vancouver and relaxed in the interactive Red Bull-Verizon Experience Lounge with games, music and conversation.
Haglund and English along with hundreds of volunteers invited all the runners to the NAIA Cross Country Opening Ceremonies where the athletes had the opportunity to meet and greet American record holder and collegiate champion Galen Rupp and his coach Alberto Salazar.
And then there’s the race itself. With long distance running wildly popular in the Pacific Northwest fans lined the course as runners made their way through the park-like setting with the Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area in the background. This year Cal State San Marcos took home the women’s team title and Oklahoma Christian won team honors on the men’s side. After the last runner crossed the finish line there was a pasta dinner and after party sponsored by Red Bull-Verizon.
The race – the Cascade Collegiate Conference and Concordia University-Portland – provided value beyond and created a memorable student-athlete experiences.