Tag Archives: athletics

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle…

A college friend introduced me to the book, In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle, by Madeleine Blais more than twenty years ago. Based on an Amherst Lady Hurricanes high school basketball team in the mid-1990’s, the book is a tribute to hope, respect, and dedication to team. My friend was a member of that team, and her story influenced me greatly as I began my adult life.

Prior to this fall, I had not thought about the book in many years, but the 2015 Lady Haymaker Cross Country team brought those memories back full circle. A small team, led by an awesome coaching staff, defied the polls and walked away with numerous titles. Their accomplishments included bringing home the Nebraska Class C State Runner-up trophy last Friday.


In Nebraska, Cross Country teams run 6 and score 4. Due to injuries, the Lady Haymakers ran 5 and scored 4. Demonstrating an impressive display of “pack running”, the top four girls finished the 5k race within 15 seconds of each other. Despite the fact that none of the girls received individual medals, their accomplishments garnered them the Runner-Up team trophy.

While there are many things about the state race that I will forever take with me, it is the look of determination on each girl’s face that warmed my heart the most. They had a goal. They believed. They trained. They built the muscle of hope just as they built physical fitness.


And they persevered with greatness…

My oldest daughter led the team as each member competed with character, love for one another, and a deep respect for the sport. While the trophy that brought tears as well as smiles will now live in a cabinet in the Cozad High School, the joy that comes from building the team will travel in all of their hearts for the rest of their lives.

Haymaker Cross Country personifies a culture of excellence. The positive mental development of the athletes provides the true beauty of the program. Somewhere in the thousands of training miles under the leadership of head Coach Dustin Favinger, a bond is forged among the runners that transcends the physical.

It is truly a joy to witness…


Throughout the season, I watched the girls “fill in” for each other during the races. They packed up tightly, running together and feeding of off the muscle of hope that beat deeply in their hearts. The girls tenaciously battled challenges, always determined to accomplish the prized end goal: a state team trophy.

As a parent, I cherish the life lessons that Ashley Grace learns pounding the running trail in search of excellence. Comraderie, self-discipline, and confidence all tie together creating the realization that true success occurs when selfless individual efforts forge together to create a team.


I will never forget the smile on her face as she proudly held the trophy. It is the smile that results when hard work, determination, and hope provide the promise of victory.

That is the recipe for excellence – That is Haymaker Cross Country.


Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

Good Coaches Don’t Just Build Athletes, They Build the Future…

I wear many different hats in my life, but perhaps the hat that brings me the most pride is my coach’s hat. When I think back to my own teenage years, outside of my parents, my swimming coach played the single largest mentoring role in my life. He taught me to work hard, believe in myself, and most importantly to be tough.


My swimming coach and I after an “ocean mile race” off the beaches of South Florida…

My successes in the swimming pool and on the Cross Country course were plentiful. I graduated from high school a two time finalist at the 18 and under National Championships in both backstroke events as well as being an All-American High School 100 Backstroke qualifier.  I also brought home two Florida Cross Country Championship team victories playing the role of the #2 runner on the team placing individually in the top 10 my Freshman year and 2nd my Junior year of high school.

1991 Florida State Cross Country Champions...

1991 Florida State Cross Country Champions…

Although the medals and recognition brought me pride and self-confidence, it was the hours spent training and working with my coach that most shaped my character. Though he was a man of relatively few words, he inspired me to dig deep and always persevere with excellence. Although I never fully appreciated this gift until my adult years, I am now inspired to try and do the same for the young athletes in my community.coachannethumbsup.jpg

Saturday the Haymaker High School Cross Country team participated in a day long “training retreat” that combined a local road race 5K with additional fitness running, a swimming and running duathlon, and a blend of motivational speakers throughout the day. I was honored to be one of those speakers. My favorite teenager is a member of the team, and her coaches are two of the finest people that I know.


While I shared a variety of things with the runners, my talk had three main points. Today, I share them with each of you…

  • The road to excellence is never comfortable. The brain is our weakest muscle and must be toughened in order to achieve excellence.
  • The most important part of a race is the moment you decide to believe and push through the pain in order to achieve victory.
  • Every race, every practice, every moment in life is an opportunity. Respect yourself enough to take full advantage of each of those opportunities as you will never get them back.

I learned these lessons as an athlete from an amazing man who cared enough to not only coach the swimmer but also to mentor the person. I internalized them and have used them every day of my adult life.


Good coaches don’t just build athletes, they build the future by shaping the character of those that they mentor.



Filed under Family, General, Rural Communities

The Road to Excellence Is Not Always Comfortable…

I am one of the coaches for the Cozad Swim Team. Our primary season is late May through July, and I spend the noon hour during the summer on the pool deck coaching practice as well as Saturdays at swim meets.

I love the sport of swimming and spent the better part of my formative years training in the pool. My high school tenure found me practicing four hours a day and traveling across the country to compete in swimming meets. My journey as a competitive athlete taught me so very many things, but likely the most important is that the road to excellence is not always comfortable.


While I loved my time as a competitive swimmer, being a volunteer swim coach has grown my love for the sport exponentially. It allows me to touch the lives of the youth in our community and help to shape their tenacity and character. This year our team had almost 50 members that ranged in age from five to fourteen as well as a few brave adults competing in the 30 and over age group.

I believe that one of my most important jobs as a coach is to teach my athletes to build mental strength and confidence. As the mind begins to believe, the athlete learns to push him/herself into the uncharted waters of true physical exertion. There is nothing comfortable in this journey, yet it ultimately results in the true beauty of fitness and excellence.


Regardless of any individual athlete’s God given talent, learning the life skill of breaking outside of what is comfortable in order to attain improvement is critical. I would argue that this is a life skill that reaches far outside of competitive athletics. Mental toughness and the desire to always improve (regardless of whether that journey is comfortable) is a skill that I have used every day in my adult life.

This year, I created the Pitchfork Challenge for our swim team to add a new element to practices. Each swimmer was tasked with discovering how many laps they could complete without breathing while swimming (in both Freestyle and Butterfly strokes). Each no-breath lap was immediately followed by 15 wall push-ups with no rest in the continuous effort for multiple laps.


Watching the young athletes figure out that they could indeed achieve success in the Pitchfork Challenge was a fulfilling experience. As they realized that I believed in their ability, my swimmers also began the personal journey of believing. Many of them pushed the limit, with my favorite blonde cowgirl going the farthest with 7 consecutive laps of freestyle no breathing with 15 wall pushups as the only “rest” in between laps. I had 38 athletes complete the challenge in freestyle, and 17 of those 38 completed it in both freestyle and butterfly. Additionally, there were another 6 athletes under the age of 8 that completed the challenge with only one breath.


A nice “side effect” of the Pitchfork Challenge was a tremendous improvement in both work ethic and fitness amongst my athletes. This led to an undefeated season for the Cozad Swim Team and a dominating performance at both the Plains tsumani Swim Team Qualifier and Championship meets.

Forty eight of our swimmers qualified for the Plains tsunami Swim Team Championships and those athletes brought home 166 medals (31 Gold) and 7 high point winners. Cozad brought home the 1st place team victory with 1792 points (more than 400 points ahead of the 2nd place team—a total of 24 teams competed in the meet).


Likely, the most important result of the season is the personal growth that each of my swimmers developed during the summer as they discovered that the road to excellence is not always comfortable…

I would like to take a moment to congratulate every athlete that swam on the team this summer. Each one of you played an important role in our team journey, and it brings me great pride to be your coach. I hope that in the future, when life throws a challenge at you, that you will think back to the Pitchfork Challenge and dig deep in order to persevere with excellence.



Filed under General, Rural Communities

We Are Always Stronger As a Team…

Thoughtful Thursday

AG and Omar.jpg

My oldest daughter and her training cronie…

They log in the miles while training together — trading smiles as well as a few sarcastic remarks while steadily pushing each other to greatness.

They are teammates and, as you can see in the picture, they move with coordination and unity.

I think of them today as I participate in Beef Quality Assurance and Sustainability meetings in Denver.  The beef team also strives for coordination and unity as we come together to constantly search for ways to get better.

No matter what the task,

We are always stronger as a team!

The Feed Yard Foodie



Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

Win The Day!


A special thanks to Brian Bazata for all of the pictures that appear in this post…

The last time that the Cozad Haymaker Football Team brought home the State Championship title was the fall of 1991.  Twenty two years later, the Pitchfork Nation is rolling with a 12-0 record.  Our Boys of Fall head to the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium Tuesday to realize a community wide dream.

Congratulations to Coach Brian Cargill and his staff for inspiring our kids to greatness!

Congratulations to Coach Brian Cargill and his staff for inspiring our kids to greatness!

The 2013 Haymaker football players were young children when Matt and I moved to Cozad in 1997.  I remember watching many of them play catch with a football on the sidelines while their dads played flag football on a local recreation team with my favorite farmer.  Those years began the changing of the guard as one era of Haymaker players hung up their cleats and another learned a passion for the game.

Go Big C!

Go Big C!

The mantra for this year’s season is Win the Day.  I have watched these young men systematically dominate the competition one game at a time.  They play with heart—they play with pride—they play with brotherhood—they play to win.  Their confidence is contagious and they have turned our community into a family of believers.haymakerfootball6

The heart of a small town is its youth.  The community binds together to nurture its young people, and in return, the younger generation sparks optimism and creates sustainability for the town.  It is a beautiful partnership and one of the things that I love most about rural America.haymakerfootball5

When the Haymakers take the field each day, they know that they represent not just themselves but also the rest of the 4000 people that live in Cozad.  When they Win the Day, they bring not just victory but also hope for the future.  Each performance on game day demonstrates that hard work and faith are the foundations of successful teams—and successful communities.

Our boys of fall...

Our boys of fall…

My heart swells with pride as I watch these young men discover that Excellence is not an act, but a habit.

I am reminded that with each touchdown and sack that are made on the field, the heart of our town becomes just a little bit bigger and the future of our community simultaneously becomes just a little bit brighter.  Today I give a special shout out to the members of the 2013 Haymaker Football Team.haymakerfootball3

Thank you for all of your hard work and inspiration.  Be true to yourselves and play with pride.  I look forward to watching you Win the Day both Tuesday in Lincoln and each day for the rest of your lives!

Go Haymakers!


Filed under General, Rural Communities

Hats Off To The Haymaker Cross Country Team!

I love youth sports.  I especially love Cross Country.

The focus, the intensity, the determination…

I love my community–its youth, its spirit, and most especially its camaraderie.

The bond that is established in the search for victory…

I love it when youth work hard, establish goals, and realize their dreams.

Basking in the glow of the realization of a goal—obtaining a 3rd place finish at the Conference Championships—while also sharing the joy with a new friend and competitor…

I love it when I can share even just a small part of that beautiful accomplishment.

The 2012 High School Girls Southwest Conference Championships…

I know that what these dedicated kids learn on the Cross Country course will help them to be successful contributors to the country that I love so much…

The drive to work hard for both personal and team success is a critical life skill.

Thursday night, I proudly watched my favorite team place all varsity runners in the Top 15, with every one of those runners receiving ALL CONFERENCE honors.  I watched my daughter lead the Junior High team to score three runners in the top 10.  I watched a team of more than 40 Junior High and High School kids push themselves to realize success…

AG strode ahead to beat both of these girls—despite the untied shoe that threatened to fall off…

Today I am proud and my heart is full.  Although Ashley Grace’s 7th grade Junior High season has come to the end, both of us are looking forward to traveling to Ogallala to watch the high school varsity runners continue the proud tradition that Coaches Dustin and Alisa Favinger have helped the Haymaker CC athletes to build.

Sharing the dream—making memories to last a lifetime…

Today I am thankful to every one of these athletes for bringing joy to my life, and I look forward to many more proud and happy moments as I cheer on my favorite Haymaker Cross Country team!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General

Fueled By Beef and Determination—Destined To Win!

Fueled by beef, determination, and hundreds of miles of running my favorite 7th grade cross country runner brought home her first Junior High Cross Country victory Tuesday evening.  The course was hilly and the temperature was in the 90’s but she demonstrated a toughness that made her Mama proud.

Striding to the finish in 1st place…

She laughs that it was her “good luck shorts” that brought on the victory, but we both know that she won this race with each one of the miles of practice that she put in this summer.  The euphoria of victory is so much sweeter when it comes with the realization that the best things don’t come easy.

Every 6:30 am run this summer brought her one step closer to victory…

In her Mama’s eyes, she attained victory before the race even began.  Victory occurred when she learned to set goals and self-motivate to achieve them.   Victory came with the realization that having a passion for something and working hard to full fill that passion is what life is all about.

If you missed the precursor post regarding my daughter’s summer running “habit” click here: https://feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/250-miles-stronger/

This is a very special medal, but the real prize is the work ethic that had to come first…

I tease her that it is her Mama’s home grown beef that makes her run so fast.  She rolls her eyes and says, “Mother”…But, I would like to point out that the muscles that are clearly visible in the victory picture at the top of this post are the product of a good balanced diet that includes daily portions of beef.  The girl’s got (ZincIronProtein) ZIP and holy smokes does she ever run fast!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project...

250 Miles Stronger…

Like many avid football players and fans, my husband looks forward to the fall because of the ensuing college football season.  Last fall, his eyes were opened to a new sport as our oldest daughter was introduced to running.  A Cross Country course is a bit different from the football fields and 200 meter dashes that Matt was famous for during his athletic tenure, but watching our daughter over the past year has made him a believer.

Matt, his senior year in high school…

I have always loved Cross Country.  There is just something about taking on the challenge of a running course with nothing but a stop watch, a pair of shoes, and your pride that makes me grin.  While I have transitioned away from competitive athletics during my adult years, I still periodically search for that “runner’s high” on the roads that surround our farm.

I don’t run as fast anymore, but I still enjoy the journey…

Nothing in my decade long search for athletic excellence prepared me for the absolute joy of watching my daughter in her own athletic journey.  It is fascinating to watch her learn to set goals, work toward them, and gain confidence as they are achieved.

Last fall was the beginning of a beautiful thing…I look forward to the years ahead!

This summer her coach challenged her to run 200 miles.  The lure of the “200 mile club” sparked her competitive nature, and she came home and announced that she was going to do it.   I helped her to develop weekly goals for the summer, and then turned her loose to see what she could accomplish.

The medal last fall that taught her that hard work led to success, and the coach that helped her to learn…

I spent the summer watching her gain confidence and pride with every run that she took.  She and her loyal four legged running partner got up early each morning and ran in the relative coolness at dawn.  While she certainly gained physical strength that will be greatly beneficial as she competes this fall, in reality she gained so much more than that…

The runner and her loyal sidekick…

At the end of the summer, armed with 250 miles and a smile, she is a proud member of the elusive “200 mile club”.  She wore her shirt to the first day of 7th grade and talks excitedly about the plaque that she earned the right to have her name printed on.  She comes home from practice talking about how it is important to always “work hard and finish strong”, and I find myself blinking back the tears as my heart swells with pride.

A special shirt on a very special young lady…

I have no idea what physical accomplishments this cross country season will bring—she has new goals for the season which include breaking a 5:45 mile and winning at least one race.  As her mom and her biggest fan, I know that regardless of how fast she runs and how many medals she brings home that the life lessons that she picks up along the cross country course are invaluable.

I would like to send a huge thank you to Coaches Dustin and Alisa Favinger for inspiring my daughter to search for greatness in all that she does.

Go Haymakers!


Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., Family, General