The Pursuit.

Rick Copley

It started in late summer and fall of 1987.

It took a little while for me to figure out that I was pursuing. Looking back all these years later I can tell you wholeheartedly that the pursuit taught me so many life lessons and it helped to form me into what I am today.

The pursuit.

In September of 1987 I was 14 and I needed something to pursue. I guess as a kid it’s hard to define what you want when you don’t know what it is that you want. You know that you want something but it takes time for the something to appear.

I had always loved to compete. I worked hard. As a matter of fact I outworked everyone. As a young baseball player and wrestler I was held back by lack. It was a lack of talent, a lack of coaching, a lack of knowledge. I don’t know. There was always something missing. 

I didn’t know what I was missing till the first day I showed up for cross country practice.

I was the last one back from the run that day but I had found my calling. The pursuit was on.


LESSON #1: Be patient but persistent when looking for a massive goal to go after. This may seem a little weird and but I believe this. Don’t just go after a goal or some vision just because it looks cool. When the time is right your heart will lead you to the right path. 


That first season on cross country came and went. I started as just another new kid without proper shoes and I finished as one of the best freshman in the state, a varsity letter and a new found passion.

I was now a runner and I was on a mission to accomplish something.

I knew all along that I had a calling. Now I had found it.

My success as an athlete was defined by my work ethic. I was talented to a degree but I wasn’t THAT kid. I knew that if I wanted to be the best I could be then I needed to do more than the others were doing.

During the cross country season my freshman year Sundays were “rest” days. Not for me. I got out a piece of paper one Sunday and drew a rough map of where every hill was within a mile of my house. I then mapped out a route that took me over every one of those hills. The last hill was a 200 meter, super steep SAND hill in a pit near my house. I ran up that hill TWICE.

The Monday after the cross country season ended a group of us got together outside the locker room and went for a run.

We did that all winter till, one cold and windy day, I was the only kid there. I had outlasted everyone.


LESSON #2: Show up. Show up always. Keep showing up. Eventually you will out show up everyone else. This lesson was dramatic to me then. Most people will eventually stop coming because they know that you never will. This advice works for business, life and in fitness. Just show up. 


I’ll never forget the day or the moment or even the place when I learned what I was pursuing.

I was running on the railroad tracks one cold late fall day with a couple if the older kids. One of them said, “Coach wants to win the states so bad…

The pursuit was on.

I ran virtually every day from the end of cross country season till the first day of track.

I set the school freshman record in the 2 mile run that season in 1988. To my knowledge that record still stands today.

I ran every day (Literally I didn’t miss a single day of running!) from the end of track to the beginning of cross county in 1988.

As a sophomore we finished 10th at the All State meet. The year before we hadn’t even qualified. Now we were top 10 and we were started to develop a REALLY strong team. Things were looking great for the next year.

Not winning the state champions was a setback in a way. We missed out goal. It was, however, an amazing lesson.


LESSON #3: Missing goals is the greatest thing that can happen. It makes you pursuit the main goal even harder. Course corrections and lessons are VITAL when going after what you want. VITAL.


The next thing that happened was amazing. The next thing that happened was epic, to say the least.

As the 1988 cross country season came to a close I had been running everyday and pursuing the state championship goal for a year. Others had been on the journey with me but then, one by one, more joined the battle. MORE JOINED THE PURSUIT.

A year earlier I had outlasted all my teammates on the cold and unforgiving roads during the winter months. Now it seemed the more I kept showing up the more other kids kept showing up. I was getting strong and fit and every time I looked around other kids were doing the same.

We were succeeding. We were thriving as young athletes. We were creating a culture.


LESSON #4: Be an early adapter. Stay true to your pursuit and your vision you will breed success. Now you are a leader and people will flock to you. When groups of people unite in a common goal then a culture is created. When a culture gets ingrained there is no stopping this unit.


In 1989 we literally had dozens of kids show up to run cross country.

It wasn’t just random kids looking for something to do. There were a dozen or more kids that were VERY good runners. Plus a dozen more kids that were decent.

I remember our coach one day was running with us. Our coach was a STUD runner in his own right. He could do a 2:25 marathon at the time and could run under 26 minutes for 5 miles. Dude was legit. He was pushing the pace on a run with a group of us one day and looked around to see 9 kids right along side him. He was in shock and in awe.

We had created a culture.

We pursued a vision. We pursued a dream. We pursued a goal.

This year, with this team, everything just worked. Everything fell into place until November 16th, 1989 when a group of 7 kids from Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School stood on the starting line of the All-State cross country meet on the municipal golf course in Gardner, Massachusetts.

We ran our hearts out that day but it was all a formality.

We had already won.

We set our sights on something. We created a culture that would accept nothing less than winning each time we stepped on the playing field.

We went undefeated in 1989. We relentlessly pursued the goal of a state title and we were rewarded for our efforts with the state championship trophy and a memory that will never leave. We were also left with marks on our soul. A tattoo of honor and pride of accomplishment that has forever positively impacted those of us that were there.

It was an amazing year and an amazing team. We pursued a goal with everything we had and charged all our lives forever and always.

That was almost 27 years ago now. The years seem to be going by faster now. It’s winter now and I live very far away from the snowy golf courses and running trails that we logged endless miles on back then. I’ve hung up my running shoes and, while I still do an easy trail run now and again, the days of out running people are long behind me.

The memories of those days, however, still cling to me like a warm blanket.

Six years ago I went back home with my son and showed him around the track and the high school where I had spent so many hours chasing that state championship goal with those amazing kids that I had called teammates and friends. It was both sad and exhilarating at the same time. Memories can be like that. Moments of success can be followed by despair as you realize those moments are now gone forever.

This leads me to the last lesson from 1989.


LESSON #5: Let success impact you. Let success be a lasting positive lesson. Let success change you for the better. Success, however, can be fleeting. I can never go back to high school and I can never win that state title again. That’s OK. The marks that success left on me are good ones and the lessons that I learned helped me to have success in other areas of my life. Don’t try to repeat the same success over and over again. Go after new goals. Pursue new dreams. Create new cultures.


EPILOGUE:

We won in 1989 with mostly underclassmen. The next year we won again but the state had split from and “all-state” format to a “large school / small school” format. There would never be a true state champion again so at least we can have the claim of being the LAST team to win the true state championship. I’ll take that.

I ran at the University of Massachusetts and had some success. Honestly, nothing compares to the success that I had at Dennis-Yarmouth High School. I am alright with that.

I competed as an endurance athlete for many years even competing at the world championship level as an age grouper several times. I finished 7th place in the world in the 30-34 age group one time in the sport of off road triathlon. The feeling, however, couldn’t hold a candle to that day on the Gardner golf course in 1989; not even close.

I moved away from New England 11 years ago and have only been back a few times. The last time that I was on my old stomping grounds was to deliver the eulogy at my dad’s funeral. While it was a sad time I still managed to go for a run and my heart smiled because I knew that he was proud of what we had done in 1989. He was there and I got the biggest hug from him when we won.

Recently I’ve reconnected with some of the guys on that 1989 team in a Facebook group. I truly do smile when I see the old pictures and hear the old stories from that time so, so long ago.

I am blessed to have learned such powerful life lessons when I was so young. I am also blessed by the kids that I ran with. We came together that year in a way that very few teams ever do. We bonded, created lifelong friendships and did something that can never be taken away.

We did something special in 1989.

We pursued the state title and we won.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share if this story inspired you.

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