Dobyns Bennett senior Emma Russum got to go out on top last cross country season.
Her team won the Division I Large Schools State Championship last fall. And she's thankful her squad got to send the class of 2020 out the right way with a title.
Unfortunately, that was the last championship she and her senior teammates got to run.
And with the 2020 track season canceled, we want to give back to our seniors. We're honoring them each and every week with these questionnaires.
Here's what Emma had to say about her favorite memories, biggest obstacles and future plans.
What made you get into track and field in the first place and what does this sport mean to you?
I started running track as a 6th grader. I tried every event in tryouts before it was quickly concluded that my lack of jumping, throwing, and sprinting ability left me best suited for the distance group.
When did you have your biggest competition?
NXR Southeast this year was one of the most competitive cross country race I have ran in. I had run the Great American Cross Country Festival on the same course my freshman and sophomore years, but I was more overwhelmed than competitive and wasn't even in the front half of the finishers. This year, I wanted to be a little aggressive at the start to get a into a good scoring position for the team, which combined with the downhill start and level of competition led me to a first mile almost 20 seconds faster than I usually go out in. I ended up placing 30th with a PR, and my teammates ran exceptionally, leading us to and finish 4th in a very good field.
Out of all of your high school accomplishments, which stands out the most?
No doubt winning the state meet as a team this past fall. Our team had four seniors, and after falling short of the team state title three years in a row, we knew it was going to be our day coming in. Finally getting to the top of the podium with my teammates was an experience I will cherish.
What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?
I am very lucky to have finished my high school career essentially injury free. The biggest obstacle I have overcome as a runner was learning how to cope with anxiety. During my freshman and sophomore years, I had pre-race anxiety to the point where it would sometimes make me sick and hinder my performances. After my sophomore year, I ended up talking to my family and had a few sessions with a counselor where I worked on finding ways to get my anxiety under control, and this really helped me in running and in my daily life. (Another note for younger athletes- if you're struggling mentally, don't be afraid to ask for help.) I have since had steady improvement and am now a much more consistent runner than I was as a freshman, mainly because I was able to gain confidence in myself and find enjoyment in competing that I didn't have as an underclassmen.
What will you miss the most?
I will miss my teammates. I have run with great people all four years of high school, and it will be hard to say goodbye.
Do you have any advice for younger athletes?
Don't take yourself too seriously. Especially on the middle school and high school levels, running should be fun and enjoyed with teammates. It's easier to work hard and succeed if you have a good time during the process. Our team had set the goal of winning state four years in a row, but this year, while we did train hard, we definitely were more relaxed and learned how to have fun with it, which I think was a big part of how the season turned out.
How have your coaches influenced your performances and your life goals overall?
Bob Bingham is definitely a unique coach. My sophomore year, Bingham had hip surgery, and two days later, he was back at practice driving a golf cart. While not the best van driver (there's a few stories there too), Bingham was always there for our team and continued to have faith in us. I remember freshman year cross country, I was having one of my worst races ever. It was a local race, the Trailblazer Invitational, and people who didn't usually beat me were ahead of me, and I wasn't even going to score for our team. What I remember most about that race, however, is rounding a turn with about 400 meters to go. All the other coaches were yelling at their runners to "kick it in" or just "finish it", but clearly seeing I was suffering, Bingham just calmly said "you're still doing okay." I tell that story sometimes because it's funny, but that was actually what I needed to hear in that moment, as Bingham knew I was already too hard on myself. I know all of us seniors already miss running for Bingham and that he has influenced us in many ways.
What are your post-high school plans?
I will be running cross country and track at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga while planning to study political science and business.