There’s always a lesson out on the Estero track, and it usually comes from the bellowing of the high school’s track and field coach, Jeff Sommer.
A week before the Wildcats were expected to bus out to the Florida State Relays in March, Sommer gave his distance runners an option.
Run eight miles if you feel like that’s enough, he said. Or run 10 miles if you want to be great.
“Ninety percent of my team went and came back and did eight miles,” Sommer said.
So he told them they couldn’t go.
You can guess what happened next. They did what all children do. They slumped their shoulders. They cried, “Hmphhh!” and then they hate ran the next two miles.
In 35 years, Sommer said, it never gets easier. High school athletes, whether he wants to admit it or not, still occupy high school brains.
It’s not just the boys, either. It also includes the girls. It even included the girls’ 3,200-meter relay team, who had run one of the best times in the nation earlier in the season.
The Wildcats’ 9 minutes, 18.27 seconds stood just a few hundredths of a second away from a school record.
Spectators may see perfection on race day, but that’s rarely the case over the week. Training is an exercise in futility. It’s the hardest thing distance runners go through.
They rarely get any credit. People don’t see the brutal miles in the sun. They don’t see how Sommer often tells his team to run tired, so they “know” what it feels like on race day.
This 3,200 relay team is perhaps Sommer’s best-kept secret, the squad that has a chance to win a state title.
There’s junior Daley Cline, nicknamed “smiles” because she might possibly be the happiest person on the planet.
You have transfer Breeana Salcedo, who came from Cypress Lake. The junior looks like she came out of a box titled, “800 runner,” with those strong shoulders and powerful legs.
There’s sophomore Megan Giovanniello, who is the kind of athlete who asks ‘What do you want me to run,’ and when the coach says, ‘This, this, this, this, AND this,’ she won’t say no.
And then there’s senior Megan Slater, the anchor with the Rhodes Scholar brain who brings it all together, who does it without saying much of a peep.
She lets others talk, she listens, and then she does her job almost better than anyone else.
“Four of the best girls,” said Sommer, who’s not as mean as this column might suggest.
Those four runners are also bound in special ways.
Cline and Slater had older sisters who ran for Sommer, and they followed by virture of not knowing any better.
All four girls compete in similar events, rather than in separate ones. Not one has an ego.
Cline and Slater remember arriving at an early morning Estero practice when they were underclassmen, the rust in their eyes not yet gone.
“Our sisters were going,” Daley said, “and so we just followed.”
Those 5 a.m. practices didn’t end. The Estero distance runners still meet in those predawn hours, even this late in the season.
And ultimately, it’s in those workouts where those lessons were earned.
They get up the next day and do it again.
Often, it’s not so much Sommer they go back to, but to themselves, asking ‘How far am I willing to go?’
The state championship is now in the foreseeable future for the girls’ 3,200 relay team. To nail it, the Wildcats will still need to have their best day.
They will need to run under 9:18, maybe closer to 9:10, if they have a shot at beating Miami Northwestern in Jacksonville.
But to Sommer, that larger win has already happened. Two miles ago as far back as he can remember.
“If I had it my way, we’d have a nice rainy, cool day up there and I hope the kids get excited and we go after the school record,” Sommer said. “And wherever we fall, I know these kids have had a phenomenal season.”