Cornelia is a cross country runner. She especially enjoys running on cross country courses lined with cornfields. “There’s something about the fall,” she says. “The colors, the smells, the sound of leaves crunching under your feet. Not to mention all that corn!”
It’s cross country season – a time to display her talents and all the hard work she has put in. And for the miles of corn stalks that she is free to get lost in when running as long as her legs will carry her. All the way to the state meet this year she hopes. You can see it in her big, blue eyes. A yearning to be first at this year’s Cornfield Cross Country Cup. The top 12 runners qualify for the state meet. The winner also gets a year’s supply of corn on the cob. Last year, Cornelia cramped up with a half-mile to go and stumbled to 13th place. To make matters worse, her little brother started calling her Corn Head. Despite winning most of her races last year, Cornelia’s season ended in disappointment. She vows things will be different this year. She will peak at the right time and win the Cornfield Cross Country Cup.
But winning the cup will not be easy. Brianna is the gal to beat. She’s built like a race horse and runs like one, too. On the surface, Cornelia is skinny and lacks rippling muscles. But years of distance running have turned her into a competitive challenger. The race is figuring to be a good one.
At last race day has arrived! Cornelia lines up next to Briana. At least 150 other runners round out the field. The training is in. The stride-outs are in. It all comes down to this. The official starter, Mr. Quisenberry, orders the runners to take their marks.
Runners set! Crack!
The starter’s pistol sounds and the runners take off. They charge toward the narrow path known as Bottle Neck Billy, so called because you can barely squeeze two runners side by side let alone 150. Picture 150 people 500 feet from a door, each one of them wanting to get to that door first. On this course, one has to jump out to a good start if she wants to be among the leaders when reaching Bottle Neck Billy. If you don’t get to Bottle Neck Billy first, you could get boxed in and spend the rest of the race, all 3.1 miles of it, fighting to get around other runners.
Cornelia is off to a good start and is running at a blistering pace by the time she reaches Bottle Neck Billy. 12-foot corn stalks are on her left and trees draped in orange, yellow and brown are on her right. And of course, Brianna is right there with Cornelia. They, and a handful of other runners, slosh their way through wet leaves and head toward the woods. Suddenly, Brianna makes a bold move and builds a two-stride lead on Cornelia. Pull her in before the woods, pull her in before the woods, races through Cornelia’s mind. Brianna is not about to break, but neither is Cornelia.
Into the woods they go. Brianna’s in first. Like a parasite on a shark, Cornelia is on her shoulder. The sound of sticks splitting in half as spikes crash over them fades into the distance as the others fall back leaving just two athletes. Suddenly, the path veers left. Cornelia sees this as her chance to make a move. Brianna won’t have it. Like a behemoth on super steroids she elbows Cornelia in the gut, knocking her off balance into a patch of mud. But like a Flintstones cartoon, Cornelia’s legs rise in mid-air, wind up, and make those funny sounds that cartoons make when someone’s legs are running in place. She takes off like she’s never run before. She breaks the sound barrier as she jets out of the woods and zooms across the field into the finish chute. Brianna slips to 13th place. Her coach, a Serbian transplant named Milosh, does not even console her. “I must take back moo-vee,” says Milosh. He snatches his DVD called Run Like Milosh, Win Like Milosh from Brianna’s gym bag and dashes out to the parking lot into his 1987 Yugo. Cornelia has punched her ticket to the state meet. But now she has something new to worry about. How in the hell is she going to eat all that corn?
Illustrated by Rosalie Sajovie