By T. Scott Boatright
Sometimes it’s simply about being fired up.
Last year the Cedar Creek Lady Cougars Cross Country Team rode the Evel Knievel-like turbo boost provided by Ainsley Long, now a runner for the University of New Orleans, to become a standout team.
This year it’s an eighth-grade spark plug firing up the Lady Cougars.
“Her nickname is ‘Spark Plug,’” said Creek cross country coach Craig Moss of Caroline James. “That’s the nickname I gave her a couple of years ago. That’s her nickname — ‘Spark Plug.’ Because of her, our internal competition has really intensified. And it’s a healthy competition. Because these girls support one another through and through, and they love and nurture each other. But that internal competition for them all to be better … had led to Caroline pushing it up another notch.”
Starting the season Caroline had already turned in a second-place individual finish.
But it was last weekend that Cedar Creek’s “Spark Plug” truly ignited with a first-place showing.
“It was pretty good,” Caroline said. “I just pushed myself harder this race. The week before we ran in Arkansas … and I had a bad race. That motivates me … to push myself harder … I guess.”
Moss has had young runners before. But maybe not like Caroline.
“We’ve had seventh and eighth graders before,” Moss said. “But what she’s doing … I’m trying to find the right words. … She just has a little more tenacious attitude as a racer. We’ve had young runners. But we’ve never had an eight-grader ranked No. 1 in 1A. And that’s where she is right now.”
Caroline says running is a natural passion.
“I started when I was maybe in kindergarten or first grade or second grade,” she said about running. “I did it all the way through fifth grade. Then my sixth grade year, I didn’t really want to keep doing it, because like, sometimes it can be stressful.”
But life changes, especially for the young. And soon Caroline was once again talking to Moss.
“I could tell by her eyes — the way she looked at me,” Moss said. “She was ready to practice. She was ready to bring her ‘A’ game every single game. The last three meets … she has rocked it.”
Being a “spark plug” for older teammates isn’t hard for Caroline.
“My team makes it fun,” she said. “Practices are fun. Races are fun. They push me to be harder. I think I push them to be harder. “
Moss said it was “intangibles” that make Caroline stand out.
“She’s a natural competitor,” Moss said. “You can’t really teach that. She has that internal mechanism where she wants to compete and she wants to win. That’s the internal component every athlete needs. You have to want to win.”
Photo: Darrell James (dgjames.photoshelter.com)
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