Accident brings teammates together

Known for their artistic attire, spaghetti suppers, and 30-degree morning practices, Ames High Girls Cross Country has always been about more than running. Team unity has been prevalent, a theme that encourages girls to work hard and receive impressive results. The 2007 season is somewhat different, though. There appears to be more effort, perseverance, and the ability to rely on one another and grow more than ever before. “Girls Cross Country is Ames High’s main producer of school spirit, determination, and soggy sport bras,” senior Sam Van Fleet said. This statement is quite accurate. The girls exhibit excellent sportsmanship, trying hard to meet Coach Schmaltz’s goals and expectations. The team usually starts the season with an annual Saturday morning breakfast, relaxes with some down time at movie nights in the auditorium, and gives back to the community by participating in Race For the Cure. Everyone supports each other vocally and verbally, cheering as loud as possible during races and giving cards and gifts of encouragement on meet days. However, the ultimate test of team unity came when sophomores Kathy Pastiak, Sarah Gutowski, Morgan Ferry, Anna Kaspar, and Kaitlin Estill were involved in an accident that put Estill in intensive care, fighting for her life. It shocked every team member differently, as no one expected such an incident on that damp, buggy Wednesday evening. Coach Schmaltz arrived at the scene immediately afterwards, and knew that his first priority was to do everything he could for the five. “I knew it was important to give updates on the girls’ conditions, but at the same time I had to protect the rest of team so they could focus,” said Schmaltz. As Estill went in for heart surgery the following day, the team headed to the Cedar Rapids Invitational. Many felt that it was somewhat disrespectful to run the meet as if nothing had happened, but others wanted to run as a dedication to their suffering teammates. Senior Kayla Becraft said, “I didn’t feel like running that day was very appropriate, but when Kaitlin’s mom said that was all we could do, I understood,” while sophomore Maggie Brockway said, “All I want to do is run!” To stay positive with hope, all Ames runners wore a blue ribbon during the race. Running for a cause proved to be effective; Ames left Cedar Rapids with big drops in times. The following week at home, the JV team finished in first place, fresh-soph second, and varsity second, only 12 points behind Dowling, the number one team in Iowa. “I appreciate you guys for who you are, not because you run,” Schmaltz has said to his team numerous times. Running fast and winning meets is important to every coach, but Schmaltz has gone past that, knowing there is more to it. He gives his athletes advice, aiming to teach them responsibility and plant a little wisdom. “I’d rather coach the person than the runner,” he said. Now that Estill is out of the intensive care unit and the other four girls are back at school, the team is as wholesome and proud as it’s ever been. Gutowski and Pastiak want to remain a part of the team by helping to coach. Facing the hardship has brought many opposites together, and any mishaps that may occur in the future will not be dealt with alone. After shedding many sorrowful tears, the 70 girls feel certain that running is not the only thing they have in common anymore.