ELMWOOD PARK — Elmwood Park senior cross country runner Alex Calle knew there was a lot on the line when the Tigers played host to the Metro Suburban East Pre-Conference Meet.
It was the final meet where runners could show coach John Kingsmill they deserved to be in the Tigers’ top seven for Saturday’s Richard Spring Invitational at Peoria’s Detweiller Park, site of the state meet.
Calle desperately wanted one of those spots, but he couldn’t feel much worse to start the day.
“I threw up in the morning and I was coughing and sneezing all day,” Calle said. “I had a migraine during school, but I took some ibuprofen and got through school. Then I knew I just needed to get through this race, do my best and show that I deserved to go to Peoria and run.”
When Calle finally stepped to the starting line things didn’t get much better.
“I have to really focus because sometimes I’m really nervous at the line,” Calle said. “It feels like everyone is going to be so much better than me. But then I’ll get mentally focused and try to do my best.”
When the starter finally his pistol, Calle felt a tremendous sense of relief. He poured everything into the race and finished the three-mile course in 19:04, good for 32nd place among 88 runners. He was the seventh Tigers runner across the line, helping guarantee him a spot in Peoria.
“I don’t think he’s ever broken 20 before,” Kingsmill said. “I think he felt a little pressure and he bumped a few kids to get that Peoria spot. What’s he going to be like when he’s healthy?”
“This was my best race ever,” Calle said. “I felt like I was about to give up but I thought about Peoria and knew I couldn’t give up. I had to show I deserved to go and I proved that by running 19:04 and not giving up.”
Calle, who’s in the CORE Program at Elmwood Park, came into the meet with a season’s best of 20:23. Such a drastic cut in time gives him a boost for the rest of the season, especially when you consider how far he’s come.
He didn’t come out for the cross country team as a freshman. When he started running as a sophomore, it took him 28 minutes to finish a three-mile race.
But with a lot of hard work, he’s been able to trim his time by nine minutes. That impresses his teammates.
“He always has the motivation to run and that’s key in cross country,” senior Lucas Kieffer said. “You come out here and there are kids who don’t want to be here and they don’t bring anything to their team. But he comes, practices and wants to get better. That’s what it’s all about.”
At Peoria, Calle built off his performance of Sept. 16. He finished the state course in 19:08.6, three seconds behind the Tigers’ No. 6 runner, Jeremy Rybak.