Cross country teams bond during relay for charity

By Mari Pothier |

The Lionheart Relay not only raised $3,500 for charities, but also helped the men’s and women’s cross country teams bond together as a team.

Alex Bonus, a junior on the men’s cross country team, said at the beginning of the semester head coach Dave Williams of the men’s cross country team, took over both the men’s and women’s teams.

As a captain on the men’s team, Bonus tried to facilitate team bonding experiences coming into the semester.

One of the events was going to see the documentary, “Hood to Coast,” which is about a variety of teams that run a 197-mile relay through Oregon.

This got Bonus and Jennifer Griner, a senior on the women’s cross country team, thinking.

“After the movie we were like, that really didn’t seem that hard. That’s something we could do,” Bonus said.

From there Bonus and Griner began planning the Lionheart relay. They decided to run from Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah, Ga. — the closest school to Flagler in the Peach Belt Conference — back to St. Augustine. In total the team would run 187 miles.

With the support of Williams and Jud Damon, the athletic director, 17 members from both the men’s and women’s teams embarked on the long journey.

The group left St. Augustine at 2 a.m., arrived at Savannah at 5 a.m. and immediately started running. They ran the whole day until 7:30 p.m. and then stayed at a hotel for the night. The next day they started back up again at 7:30 a.m. and ran until 5:30 p.m. when they returned to St. Augustine.

Bonus said the group would run in pairs. Each pair would run three miles and then switch with another pair who would also run three miles. In total there were six pairs who generally ran every two and a half to three hours, according to Bonus.

The first pair of runners to start the relay was Bonus and Michael Lambert. Most of the runners completed 30 miles by the end of the journey. Bonus said he was not able to run the whole relay because he was recovering from an injury and ran around 19 miles. He and Derek Casciano, who was also injured, both ran with Lambert and alternated every other time.

While waiting for their turn to run, Bonus said the runners would ride in one of the two vans, but also made stops at places to take pictures and do little activities.

“It never seemed too long and it was just always fun,” he said.

One of the best parts about the experience for Bonus was that everyone was excited and had positive attitudes. Some people grew tired and others got sick, but Bonus said nobody ever complained.

“It was really good going into the future, especially bringing in so many people from different backgrounds from running and showing them that you’re able to do this, it’s not hard,” Bonus said.

Bonus also explained how three of the runners that participated in the relay, recently joined the cross country team. They include Erin Buning, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Emma Caird.

“Its good for not only as a team bonding experience, but as a confidence builder for people who’ve never done this before,” Bonus said.

Buning, a former women’s soccer player who is out of eligibility, has decided to run cross country next year. Participating in cross country during high school, Buning said that sports have always been a big part in her life.

Completing the relay gave Buning a lot of confidence because the most she had ever run before was around 10 miles.

“It was exciting when I finished,” Buning said. “It was a feeling I never felt before. I really felt like I accomplished something.”

Bonus explained that every year all the sports teams have to do some sort of community service project. The cross country teams decided to use the relay as theirs and raised $3,500. He said $2,400 went to the Flagler College Athletics Boosters, $1,000 went to the Make a Wish Foundation and $500 was left for the teams.

“That’s why we wanted to do it,” Bonus said. “To fill the requirement, but also as a way to bring the teams together and do something that would make them realize miles aren’t scary like you don’t have to be afraid of things you’ve never done before.”

For Bonus the most memorable part of the relay was the last eight miles of the trip. One of the vans got a flat tire, so all 17 of the runners, Williams and Williams’ dog piled into the other van. Sweating and squished together, Bonus said they ended up having a blast and sang “Lean on Me.”

“It was a really nice way to end it because it’s like okay we’re all together now, we’re going into the finish,” Bonus said. “It was memorable and fun and it kind of defined the experience.”

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