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It never gets old

Al Carius may have guided his team to national championship appearances for four-consecutive decades, but the experience feels new each time

By Al Carius, as told to Meghan Durham

The longtime North Central College cross country coach thinks back on four decades of championship experiences, which include 15 cross country and track and field national titles:

The first Division III national championship in cross country was held in 1973, and North Central College has competed in every single one since then. We won our first national championship in 1975.

I’ve been coaching here for 49 years. Winning that first national championship was something that was very memorable and significant for me, but every year becomes a distinctive moment in itself.

One of the things that I love about cross country is that each national championship race is different. We’ve run in mud and snow, on hills and flat land, through wind and heat. You run in all kinds of conditions and that’s what adds the fun to the sport. Cross country courses are like golf courses in that each one is different, which really adds to the experience.

The national championship is a vehicle to share and create memories, and each one creates an invisible bond that binds the student-athletes for years to come. When we’re on the bus and on our way to the nationals, I tell our student-athletes to enjoy every second and everything they do, because it’s going to be over before they know it.

Hopefully, it has a very positive impact on young peoples’ lives that they will carry with them forever. It’s not about what place they finish or how fast their times are. It’s about the experience. Whether we win the national championship or not, the strange part is that inevitably I wake up the next morning feeling sad and yearning to have that moment again.