Saranya Mandapaty

Staff Writer

“It’s more than just running with people, it’s creating a bond with others that’s hard to replace,” says Nikhil Makker. A certain glimmer comes to his eye when speaking about running. His teammates, Jeffrey Chen and Anish Agrawal share the same euphoric glance when they agree. “I think for cross country especially, because of the nature of running and how difficult it can be on the mind and the body, just having teammates there can help share that pain. All the hard workouts we do, and the miles we put in together, you develop a special bond with your teammates and that’s something that you can’t find anywhere else,” Chen says adding on to Agrawal. “Not only because you’re with them, talking to them for a couple of hours a day. Because you’re together, you race together, you go through this sport together,” Agrawal explains. Together

Together is a word I found recurring numerous times in the time I had talking to Anish, Nikhil, and Jeffrey. Even as I was scheduling this interview, they requested to do it together. When scheduling conflicts arose, they agreed to do it after school as long as they did it together. 

For these runners, being part of a team is very important. When asked if it’s true being a part of a team is like having a second family, Agrawal answered almost immediately. “100%, it’s not going to come overnight, you won’t initially feel that connection but over time it’ll come. I’ve been with Nikhil and Jeffrey for,” he paused, his voice rich in nostalgia,“Half my life. Over time you make those bonds, those friendships.” 

The first thought that comes to mind for these runners when they begin running is essentially nothing. The second they start running, their body is flushed with adrenaline. Pre-race, their priority is to clear their minds. “We trust our training, we trust the work that we’ve been putting in. It’s about trying not to get in your own head,” says Makker. They explained further that their coach, Coach Gould tells them to keep things simple, just run. “I think most of our thoughts come in during the middle of the race or the end. The main goal is to stay positive, to not let those negative thoughts seep in,” Chen continues. During the interview, I couldn’t help but notice the special dynamic that these runners have with each other, and their ability to seamlessly catch each other’s beats. 

Pictured left to right: Anish Agrawal, Virat Vishwanadhula, Neil Deshpande, Nikhil Makker, Jacob Ferrer, Jeffrey Chen & Steven Chi after winning Sectionals

“Even though in cross country you work individually, everything is about placing as a team, everything is about the team. The results are going to come, but if you put your heart and soul into the track then that’s a win. No matter the time, no matter the place,” Agrawal stated passionately. You could tell by the way he enunciated each word, how much he truly meant it. ¨I think if you ask most people on our team, they’d much rather have a better team result than an individual result, and so when we win as a team it shows all our hard work and that the effort we put in, every single day, has not gone to waste. That it was worth it, in a sense,” Chen finished. 

These runners contribute a lot to High School North’s cross country team. Makker explained how during their sophomore year they competed in Shore Coaches, a large cross country invitational against over seven thousand runners. Thanks to them and their team, North stayed on top.

When the runners go to college next year, they expressed how much they’re going to miss the team. However, the HSN track team has a tradition where upperclassmen come back to visit. They promised to carry on that tradition because cross country isn’t just an extracurricular for them, but a lifelong bond. Running, in general, is a huge part of their lives as they train for two to three hours every day. “That’s not something we can easily forget,” says Chen. 

When going to college, the one thing that the boys all share is the goal to continue running. Anish is looking into aeronautical engineering, Nikhil into finance and business, and Jeffrey into computer science. We know wherever these runners go, the college will be lucky to have them. 

The runners concluded by giving their past selves a piece of advice. “Enjoy it, trust the process, because you can’t just wake up one day and just be good at running, it takes a long time to train and get better,” Makker suggested thoughtfully. “To not stress too much about it, I used to get nervous before workouts or meets. I realized that in the grand scheme of things, one bad race doesn’t define who you are,” Chen advised. “I think the biggest piece of advice is to not worry about other people, I know coming into freshman year I was always like looking at other people’s records, so I’d say stop doing that. Know that the only important person there is you,” Agrawal closed. 

Makker, Chen, and Agrawal exude confidence, teamwork, and pride in everything they do. The overarching message they conveyed was: no matter what obstacles life throws at you, no matter where you go, or where you end up, as long as you have someone to fall back on, as long as you do it together, You will make it. 

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