A Team On and Off the Trail

For freshmen, Madelyn Johnson, running varsity cross country has provided her with more than an outlet for physical exercise.


Tonya McDonough

The Liberty girls cross country team cooling down after a win

Spikes digging into rough terrain, legs burning from exhaustion, and air coming in ragged breaths are frequent occurrences for varsity cross country runner, freshmen Madelyn Johnson. 

While most teenagers spend their summers relaxing, socializing, binging Netflix, and sleeping until noon, Madelyn dedicated her summer to achieving her goal of running varsity cross country. Hours of training exercises and miles of running have added up to a well-earned spot on the girl’s varsity cross country team. 

I trained all summer for this, so I feel like I’m honored and I had this goal, right, so it feels good to achieve that goal,” said Madelyn. 

Madelyn’s mother, Ann Johnson, detailed Madelyn’s dedication to her team and sport.

“Madelyn is a really good teammate, she’s never one to need the spotlight and she’s always one that wants to pass the ball to somebody else or be a part of a relay team with other people. She’s very team-oriented and she’s really committed and loyal,” said Ann. 

Tonya McDonough, varsity girl’s cross country coach, agreed that Madelyn is committed to the team.

Ashlyn Keeney (left) Beth Jaegar (middle) Madelyn Johnson (right)

Madelyn has a great attitude, she works really hard and pushes herself to get better every day,” said varsity girl’s cross country coach, Tonya McDonough. 

Running varsity cross country as a freshman could be nerve-wracking, but Madelyn is not alone in this venture.

“Madelyn is one of five freshmen that joined our team this year. I call them the Fab Five because they came in as friends with awesome enthusiasm and have the potential to be a really great group of runners. Madelyn has already proved that she can run and compete at the varsity level. In our first meet of the year, she was our number six runner on the team. The second meet of the season she won the fresh/soph race,” said McDonough. 

Although cross country may appear to be an individual sport, there is almost always a team behind each runner, supporting them as they work towards the finish line. 

“I think cross country seems like a kind of an individual sport, but it does help you with teamwork,” said Madelyn. 

Having a smaller team definitely has its advantages, according to Madelyn. 

“We’re forming a closer bond because there’s less of us and I like a smaller team because you get to know everyone better,” said Madelyn. 

Madelyn’s teammate, Clara Welch, freshman, agreed that having a smaller group has its perks.

I definitely think that having a smaller team allows you to get closer with everyone and really get to know people. As a team, we try to do some fun team bonding activities like team meals and camping when we can. These activities have allowed the whole team to grow closer and get to know each other better.”

— Clara Welch

“I definitely think that having a smaller team allows you to get closer with everyone and really get to know people. As a team, we try to do some fun team bonding activities like team meals and camping when we can. These activities have allowed the whole team to grow closer and get to know each other better,” said Welch.

The benefits of having a small team are numerous and McDonough acknowledged them.

 “I love the culture of our XC team.  We have so much fun together.  Running is really hard and isn’t always fun so we find fun things to do as a team and we always celebrate our success and improvements.  We had beach days this summer after long runs at Lake McBride and designated Tuesday’s as “Smoothie Tuesday,” said McDonough. 

The cross country community here at Liberty has already proven to be extremely welcoming and supportive for Madelyn. 

“I think we have a really good bond. All of the upperclassmen are super nice and even at the beginning none of the freshmen really knew any of them but they were super nice and super welcoming and they always cheer us on,” said Madelyn Johnson. 

The cross country team’s tight knit community ensures that they win as a team and lose as a team, no one is alone. 

“I think that as a team we go into every race trying our best and hoping for success, but that doesn’t always happen. We all know that no matter how the race goes it’s okay. Some days you do great, other days you don’t, and that’s life,” said Welch.

Madelyn Johnson (left) Clara Welch (right)

From a parent’s perspective, Ann Johnson is very happy that Madelyn found such a welcoming group of people that have a shared interest in running. 

“I think that cross country is a nice little community to be a part of, they’re really welcoming and there was a lot of team bonding over the summer. I think it’s helpful to have some familiar faces and people cheering her on and it just feels like close comradery,” said Ann Johnson. 

“Our parents are very supportive. They travel to our races, cheer us on, and provide food for us. The boys and the girls [XC teams] are also very supportive of each other. As XC runners we understand the daily grind that we are all going through.  We often run our long runs together which really helps everyone to stay motivated.  We have lots of meets together so it’s great to be able to watch other races and cheer for the Lightning,” said McDonough. 

Just like all sports, cross country has a large mental aspect. Cross country runners not only have to prepare physically, but be in the right mindset before setting foot on the trail. This mental aspect is yet another factor that brings the team closer together. 

I feel like cross country is obviously physical but you have to have a really strong mentality to be able to stick through it, because it gets really hard at the end. It’s difficult, I feel like you need to be in the right headspace for a meet,” said Madelyn Johnson. 

The team posing for a picture after their win on September 9th

“I always tell her that it’s more of a mental game. All the thoughts that she’s thinking while she’s running, none of that will matter when she’s done. It’s a matter of just pushing on and listening to your body when you’re running, but more often it’s how strong you can stay in your mind,” said Ann Johnson. 

 For Madelyn, her coach’s mantra of, “Fast, faster, fastest” routinely consumes her thoughts as she pushes herself to finish a race strong. 

My coach, her mantra for meets, is “fast, faster, fastest” so you can’t run out too quickly you have to keep plowing through,” said Madelyn Johnson. 

Whether on the track practicing, hitting the trail for a meet, or spending her time with teammates, Madelyn Johnson knows that she has a team of runners who have her back through all the ups and downs cross country may bring.