When you leave college, time has a way of slipping away from you.
Life changes, almost instantaneously. You move away to find a job or go to grad school. You make new friends and find someone to share your life with. You buy a house and have a family. You start doing all the things that keep adults busy.
But always in the back of your mind, time stands still as you hold on to the memories of college. The time when you were figuring out who you are and what you mean to the world, what your passions are and what you’ll do with your life. And you hold onto those people who held you together as you did your growing up.
On August 31, 2013, nearly 50 James Madison cross country/track & field alumni got to revisit those memories as they returned to Massanetta Springs for the first JMU Alumni Meet. They ran alongside 17 current Dukes who were trying to work out the kinks of a new season.
Some alumni are new to the concept, having just run out of eligibility last fall; others are nearly a decade removed from competition. Some are still in school, worrying about what classes they’ll take this semester; others now have wives or husbands and children who are just starting to run around. Some still run nearly eight miles a day; others…not so much.
But no matter what, they all have one thing in common: they are a part of the JMU cross country/track & field family. And head coach Dave Rinker intends to bring them back into the current Dukes’ family.
“We’ve had a lot of [program] success in the past and we need to build on that and bring [our alums] back so our present students can meet these people,” Rinker acknowledged. “Not only to make contacts for jobs down the road and to share experiences, but to also have a sense of history among them so they realize that they are part of something that is much bigger.”
Former runner Lauren Gabler (JMU ’06) jumped at the opportunity to rejoin with her former teammates, as well as meet those members of the Dukes’ cross country/track & field family she never had the chance to compete with.
“When Coach Rinker first sent out the email, I was really excited that they were thinking about bringing all the alumni together,” Gabler admitted. “I only ran cross country/track & field for 2 ½ years at JMU, but in that time, everyone on the teams became my best friends. We were all super close, the men’s team and the women’s team, and we’ve all kept in touch since graduating.
“But I know there were a lot of people that came before us and after us, and I thought it would just be really nice to bring everyone together to catch up and share our love of running and share some memories that we all made while running cross country and track at JMU.”
Being able to run alongside their predecessors gave his current student-athletes a unique opportunity to understand the bigger picture they are now a part of.
“It was really cool because you could still feel the JMU spirit,” sophomore Jenna Flickinger revealed. “I looked over and thought ‘wow, you used to run here and now you’re running again with me.’ We were joking around and having fun, so it was nice.”
While the current JMU cross country squad used the event as a dress rehearsal, working out pacing and tempo, former JMU cross country athletes used it as a chance to reunite with former teammates and coaches and catch up on jobs and babies.
“It was good to see the current team out there,” Coach Rinker remarked. “But, without a doubt, the most important thing was seeing the alums, trading stories and laughs, catching up on what they’ve been doing. We actually had 13 children running around, so it was really neat to see what they’ve become and what they’ve been doing.”
Time continues to pass, no matter how much you might try to freeze it. One moment you’re a freshman, putting on your first pair of JMU running shoes; the next, you’re hugging Coach Rinker goodbye as you leave his office for the last time.
And then, before you know it, you’re running alongside the newest members of the team, “huffing and puffing and gasping for air, running like [you’re] being chased by a bear. But, even so there’s no place [you’d] rather be than at Massanetta with [your] cross country family” (from alumnus Holly Frederickson DeWitt’s poem “ ’Twas the Night before the Reunion”).