Tales of Dead Armadillo A Novel About Cross-country Running and Early 1990s New Braunfels Texas Novel By Esteban Erik Stipnieks All Rights Reserved Chapter 9 Section 5 One last Race As a Team



The bus was parked at the field house.  Amanda and Tara were first to arrive after the two Coaches.  The wind was again blowing from the north.  Ace and Tom were there next.  Ace quipped not quite as glamorous as a day off and a trip on Southwest Airlines.  Coach Noel responded "But this time you are running it."  Ace smiled.  Tom made a quip "First time I am actually boarding this bus this time because I got a meet to run."  Linda arrived.  Tom welcomed her.  Her brother had helped get them there.  Bo had a smile on his face.  Serg was a bit late.  Members of the girls JV Anna, Lezlee, had shown up.  Dennis looked at Ace "Ready to lead?"  Ace simply responded "Nothing like running the best race we have ever run to go out the way want to!"  Serg replied "You got that right." 

The JV had loaded up the two containers one of ice bag the other of Exceed.  Coach Bob stood in the Aisle before Coach Noel Scott would fire up "Steven Ray....I want you to be here again next year Mike you got one last season Tara welcome to regionals next year you and Kim are responsible for getting us here.  All you senior guys have fun you earned it this year this is more then likely your last race like Ace says why not run the perfect race."  The bus took off. 

Tara was riding in front of Ace she turned her head "You are smiling.”  The next line was “Never thought I would ever be happy about running at UTSA.” She laughed.  Bo said "Something about REGIONALS" Mike snickered "You got that right."  Ace smiled "I'll never get to run Lubbock but running UTSA with the Blue and White is more then worth it."  Tom smiled as the bus was down I-35 for the last crosscountry meet of his career.  Tom remarked "Regionals we made it."  Ace then told Tara "Tell your dad being in the center of the gym at the pep rally was more fun then a Southwest Airlines flight to Lubbock."  Tara looked down angular at Amanda "Being an under-study to two great runners is better then being the star of a team that does not reach regional’s"  Amanda smiled "Just run smart today."  Steve Miller filled the ears of Ace as the bus turned I-35.

Coach Noel Scott was driving people behaved themselves on the roads.  The trip to regionals was radically different.  The town had gotten behind the team Ace had become the hero what a trip the three years had been with him.  The bitterness in Scott's mouth was there but it had been sweet.  What had been hellish for Ace had transformed him.  Now Ace and others were transforming his town.  The biology teacher had challenged Ace's core his sophomore year and the result of the Probe ministries conference the drama at his house.  Denton Bible Youth Group had been an incessant fire of adversity the metal hammered.  Coach Noel Scott realized Ace was radically different then his classmates and while embracing the return to his hometown. His true graduating class was a couple hundred miles away.  Or perhaps Ace was a new prototype of a Unicornness.  Tara was going to wind up a Unicorn a new generation.   Kimber was a transitional form.  Amanda had been drug in much the way Ace had. He had been Denton in its most intense form shoved in front of her. She had been forced to deal with it. She also had the odor of Christ and what the gospels looked like applied right beneath her nose. She had ears to hear and eyes to see in then end she saw the truth and submitted herself to it.

Coach Bob had gone through a lot of tragedy.  Coach Noel was a different character Coach West in many ways took hints off the lead the traditionalists in New Braunfels.  He shot a look at Ace beneath the smile and joy was grief a grief that been there since he arrived back at his hometown.  He realized the grief that was in Ace's heart put there in June.  Anger at the needless deaths that the high school had caused was there but it had been overshadowed.  Coach Bob was happy for Bo regionals fit him he needed a supporting cast a kick the pants and dumb luck had played out nice.  Tom everybody's big brother and Dennis the one you did not want to let down.  The more he thought about the happier was.  Coach Noel Scott had characteristics he wanted and in the midst train wreck he had become the hero.  The two Coaches made a good team. 

As Amanda looked at her team as music filled her ears a new feeling entered her heart....gratitude.  God had given her a team a challenge a new vision.  Ace and Tara along Noel Scott very different elements.  She was looking now with fresh eyes she saw the drug usage hidden from overt view at NBHS.  She saw what not compromising. Kimber's rebuke had been strong early but in the end she knew she had it coming to her. She laughed stares of disapproval and Tara's stare down of brother in Christ Ace.  Ace could be mean but he was loving the folly of one had yielded results that were on one level just.  Ace behind his smile had a grief that he apparently accepted a part of his life strange how one event could change him.  The grief though had made him more tender in some respects.  She had seen beneath the intensity and tasted the tenderness and love that was there. This was the last race her team her posse.  State was coming if she did well she would be there but that was about her this was a day of her team. For once she had her brothers of the male team to join her. Ace was responsible for that. The decoration of Ace had been her gratitude for it. The chore had become treat.

The bus rolled down 1604 and finally arrived at UTSA.  Coach Bob took to the aisle "I know you guys are emotional remember to have fun earned it and thanks to the JV guys and girls for coming along to support your team very few schools do it."  With that Allison and Anna grabbed the cooler to take it to the area the group would be in.  Her brother had varsity glory thrust upon him.

Dennis and Bo took charge the guys team walked some parts of the course.  Ace was mentally preparing himself French Fries made comments about the course they actually had indications of intelligence.  They would soon have to warm up.  Ace was going for big blast adrenaline Hot House Flowers and Midnight Oil combo he started one CD.  The air was not as cold as Ace had feared.  The course would actually be bearable instead of the cedar filled steam bath he had feared.

The twenty minutes to the time to get the line quickly passed.  It was a methodical warm up.  They did strides.  The pulses of each of the hearts were raised to over 100 beats per minute.  Ace had a smile the blast of "Emotional Time", "A Thing of Beauty" from Hot House Flowers mixed with "Some Times" , "Warakuana" the combo worked well his heart was racing as he went to the box blood oxygen levels were now high in Ace's.  The warm up pants were quickly taken off. Dennis and Bo were similar psyched up.  Dennis looked at the guys "Make it count.”  The girls varsity grabbed the guys gear. The girls were smiling as they took the warm ups away.  Ace heard the starter instructions knowing he would be running his last race. 

The gun went off.  For a third time Ace faced the course.  This time he was far back only Stephen Ray was behind there were a couple others as the course made the sweep.  Patience was strong...no restart.  The pace for ace was respectable.  He made the bigger sweep amazed at the raw speed he was seeing but determined to run a good race.  The girls were cheering him on.  He was near the very back of the race.  His legs were loose he made the big circle and started out towards the north and 1604 along the familar course line....it was decent cruise but Ace was surprised even by the speed that course was progressing he was having trouble even maintaining position but he was not going to jack up the speed.  The temptation was there as he made the turn so the course section that would swing by the dorms.  It was requiring discipline to stay patient.  The air was heavy on the lungs of Ace to pick his poison....he would take the heat.  The turn to the left came he set up his first pass he could hear Steven Ray close behind Mike had vanished off in the distance.  The first mile mark came up 5:45 it was time to accelerate.  Ace kicked it up and he made a pass  he was so far behind he was in no real threat of being passed.  The cedar trail and the dorm had just a hint of mud the Air Pegasus were doing their job lighter and faster Ace accelerated a bit and the longer stretch passed that loop by a creek bed.  Keep running Ace thought Coach Bob shouted "Keep closing that gap Ace you are doing good."  Ace knew the pseudo enthusiasm but he had been running near a perfect line and he continued to close.  This section of the course had rolling curves but was for the first part flat.  The course swung a 90 the narrow cut trails the distance behind Mike had diminished he was also coming up on the second mile.  There was a set of turns each one Ace managed to get the line he wanted which was just a bit of a bit wider....11:20.  The looping section to setup the rapid drop and cannonball hill.  The legs were loose sweat was coming the fire of lactic acid was building the burning desire was growing.  Coach Noel Scott was shouted "Way to finish it!"  The long swerves to cannon ball hill continued Ace hoped he would get to lock it down in the center of it.  He locked on as it approached he  made some additional passes and he was near Mike as he set up the cannon ball one last time as crosscountry runner in high school he extended his stride shifted weight forward and started gaining rapidly as the speed built up rapidly.  The left hand turn to the finish he took inside while going fill kick passing Mike who kicked it just a bit more to get ahead of Ace they two finished right after each other.Ace's career had ended. 

Aero heard the gun go off and was surprised at the speed of the start one side told him to be patient.  He was in the bottom half the race really fast the group made the turn.  He was scared but he could feel Dennis's eyes behind him Coach Bob was shouting "Do not do Medina Valley French Fries."  Smack Bob let some venom out.  He made his away around then out to the section that went by the dorms hearing the girls cheer him.  Every bit of temptation was for him to go hard but no patience he made a couple passes and was only passed once.  He was making progress.  Then came the left hand turn to the section of the course that would swing by the dorms.  He was the first Unicorn runner but realizef Bo was not too far behind.   He was charging hard to his first mile mark but he was not going to blast it and go way beyond the lactic acid threshold.  The course continued then another left to the long stretch that parallel a fork of Leon creek. The course in the cooler weather Aero thought was really not all that bad.  He had to make a couple tight turns and he cursed his stupidity.  He was a freshman still quite green and still learning.  He had accelerated his first mile was on profile and as he did he started making more passes as those who had taken off fast were paying a price...they were not quite as stupid as he was at Medina Valley but the bulls had broken him of a bad habit fast.   Now he wished he had more skill in passing he had a sinking suspicion the course line he was running was ugly but he was using his talent his second mile was where he wanted the recklessness Ace at times wore like uniform kicked in for the wide approach to the third mile.  Coach Noel Scott called his name and late he heard Bo's name called out.  Aero accelerated hard and was gong to blast through the lactic acid threshold and was gong to have fun doing it.  The long serpentine course he was making passes state why not?  He was going near full bore a little further out then half a mile.  He rushed a couple passes  and finally set it up.  He glanced down the hill he could make a pass it was tight if the guy did not move to the center.  Aero had gotten the form down weight forward stride full extension.  He accelerated like a demon to the runner from Edinburg.  The runner was surprised by the crazy Gringo.  Aero used his soccer forward agility to be on the inside to push his lactic acid filled legs to get one full blast of speed. 

He crossed the finish line and out went what was left the exceed in his stomach.  Coach Bob smiled the manic passing Aero looked at his place card as he turned it in top 10.  He was state bound.  Allison Ray smiled Amanda Cook had been counting the places Anna shouted "French Fries has gotten the nickname Aero Again."  She went the training box and whipped out some tape and with a felt tip pin AERO was written and the nick name was covered.  Tom and Dennis were laughing.  Anna's hands went a bit low on Aero's back.  Bo said "We had a deal the girls are keeping it you are not French Fries anymore you are not stupid Freshman you are Aero!"  Ace was behind Stephen Ray witnessing the whole scene with a smile on his face as happy as he could be in the situation. 

The girls had to warm up.  Bo was beaming; Tom was exhausted Mike had a smile on his face along with Dennis.  Steven Ray though visibly exhausted was smiling with Troy and his sister.  Serg said "That was the only time I liked running at UTSA"  Coach Bob said "Something about regionals makes it worth the run."  The guys laughed.  Amanda, Linda, Kimber lead the girls the starting line.  Their final quip was, “Its nice for you guys to finally join us.”

The guys followed the girls the area by the starting line.  Aero was now wearing his T-shirt with the tape over his old name French Fries.  The guys watched the girls warm up.  They collected their warm up pants and brought them to the little camp area the team had set up.  They then aligned their way the course.  The boy’s varsity was familar in the role of taking the girls sweats to their stuff in the area where the team waited where Ace had listened to his role.  Brett who was around smiled.  Tom was still visibly near exhausted along with Dennis could not hide his smile.  Aero was liking losing the nickname.  Ace had shut up.  Serg made a comment now I do not hate UTSA as much.  As the guys walked away from the starting line to cheer the girls on another location but they were all laughing.  Aero responded "Yeah hopefully I will run it 7 more times.”  Dennis barked with humor “You better run it 7 more times.”  It now was a meaningless threat.  Dennis had ceased to be member of the team.  His career had ended on a high note 

Amanda warmed up she had seen the guys race it had been a thrill her heart rate was where it should be. She was happy for the guys and their glory.  It made her life easer that week.  Kimber’s quiet support and Linda's call to duty was great.  She was expected to state but much of her journey there had been with a group of sisters and brothers that she had friends.  The guys were happy to take the warm up pants and shirts keeping an eye them.  She looked at one last time at UTSA ahead.  The group received.  She quietly told Tara have fun but learn Tara.  The gun went off.

This was her 8th time on the course.  She was intimately familiar with this course she knew of some of the faster sophomore they took off fast she was near the front and would be dealing with traffic but she could thread her way through.  She was happy with her line 300 yards no restart.  As cold and methodical as Ace was the simple fact was he had nothing on Amanda.  As she he made the turn and heard the cheers from the guys one last time the instincts of 7 times were speaking with a razors edge she started gaining back some places feeling relaxed Aero would be with her at state.  Linda and Tara were not going to finish high enough.  She was happy for the guys they she make another pass they were tight behind her the left turn was made she was at a good clip above the lactic aside threshold bout not dangerously so.  She was passed once but made three passes putting herself up.  He first mile time was a bit fast but she felt good.  The turn through the trails came.  She was milking the course for ever advantage it to offer a sloppy line a pass to the inside momentum maintained she was accelerating now her last full shot of glory with her team.  She made mental note of the 400 yards another point of acceleration.  Cannonball hill allowed her to begin her full kick 900 yards out.  She made five more passes Coach Bob shouted State pace keep it up three more passes.  Her father called out Amanda was happy she snagged one two then full kick three she was now in the top ten a runner went to the right as the course peaked out before cannon ball hill.  Clear full stride extension weight was far forward over the base support and she was accelerating like an F-16 with a half a fuel load in full burner.  She picked another two passes at the turn and was in full juice in doing so her reckless spirit she was now the 2nd fastest girl in the region. 

Amanda Cook's adage to Tara was the passing of a torch and reduction of responsibility.  Coach Bob had not heard it but it removed a degree of tension from her.  The gun went off.  The start was stunning fast Tara dared not to burn herself out she was going to ride near Amanda and learn some.  The course unfurled and she was seeing a better line a little more the inside some it was not as efficient as Amanda’s but it was allowing her to build.  The boys were cheering Linda was running a very similar line to Amanda and as the boys cheered the group started making passes.  She was aggressive but was realizing how little she knew about course that Amanda ahead was running like an old friend.  The turn came another two passes after being passed she was coming up on the mile time she had not slammed the afterburners but she was not putting it by feel she was near where she wanted to be.  She saw the mile marker come into view.  She got her call pretty much on profile but she was surprised how far she was behind.  She added speed knowing she was more then halfway she then tried as closely as possible following Linda's line Coach Bob shouted "Way to run smart way to learn."  The course went on she was somewhat familar and then she could see Linda kicking it with 900 yards to go.  Tara decided what the heck.  She then realized it was a brazen bet on a safe cannonball down the hill.  She made note hoping to see the passes she could make to the strategy to pay off.  It was a decision of courage her father shouted "Bronco Pride"  it broke the tension and she smiled while going full out.  She was rapidly approach the hill she realized she would have to make a pass on the hill but she adjusted to a rut and made both passes while accelerating her legs moving faster to compensate for her greater mass she actually closed some on Linda.  State for the girls she exploded all her strength putting her dead inside and accelerating to the finally 100 yards of the finish.  Her legs were on fire her lungs felt the lead but she was going to finish strong she was behind Lisa with a girl between them.

She turned around cheering Leisha, Kathrine, Kimber and Kim; they barely missed state she estimated.  She drank a cup of exceed.  Amanda smiled they congratulated their teammates as the boys were around them.  She saw a tear from Amanda and Linda.  Kimber had tears.  The girls accepted the congratulations and love from the guys.  They group recovered and walked to the award ceremony.  By a second Amanda got a medal the guys would be sending Aero to state along with Tara, Linda and Amanda they would be joined by Aero.  Troy helped Amanda and Lezlee with the stuff to the bus.

Amanda looked at Coach Bob.  She would do the honors of giving the last post race pep talk of the season.  The boarded bus and she stood in the aisle "Thanks to the new faces...Kim, Tara you added fun Coach Noel thanks for turning a freshman punk into a dear friend.  Ace thanks for getting the guys here as men who had to race."  Amanda continued "Bo, Mike, Tom Dennis I had longed for the day us girls would not be a solo act you took the challenge you started believing you made it happen thanks for taking the dare I loved having a guys team to cheer on in addition to being cheered at regionals this year."  At that point all the girls started cheering.  Coach Noel was told "Take us to Frudruckers"

The seniors had gone from stars to has beens.  Tara was now expected to lead the team the following year.  The Unicorns had one that night and they were going to the play offs.  They ate sharing storys of the race sharing storys of races passed. It was good beef good food and heavy it was consumed by tired hungry teens happy with the flush of victory as a team.  Ace indulged in cup of black coffee and made a toast to a friend who would always be 17. The gesture was noticed. Coach Noel, Coach West, Tara and Amanda along with Kimber and Brett would later say he had honored her memory well that year. 

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