Cross Country Team aims ‘to be something bigger than yourself’

Team balances personal development, team success, and fun

Manon Plouvier is the captain of the women’s team.
Credit: 
Supplied by McMaster Athletics

It’s been an accomplished season for the cross-country team so far, with the men currently ranked fifth and the women ranked sixth in Canada. Both the men’s and women’s teams finished 2nd in their divisions at the McGill Invitational on Sept. 17.

On Oct. 1, they competed in the Ottawa Capital XC Challenge where the women’s team finished 1st and the men’s team placed 2nd. At their most recent meet in Hamilton, the men’s team finished 2nd and the women ranked 4th.

Head Coach Mark Bomba’s four main principles—balance, support, personal development, and fun—have been guiding the team to success. 

Cross Country is the one of the only teams that trains both their men and women simultaneously. According to Bomba, although the two teams spend a lot of time together, they both have very distinct and different personalities.

“Our women are a much more serious group; they are very focused,” Bomba said in an interview with The Journal. “Our guys are kinda goofballs. So, when we put those two dynamics together, it’s a really nice balance.”

In the past, the men’s and women’s teams have kept to themselves, training together without having a close relationship. Women’s Captain Manon Plouvier said Bomba helped change this dynamic, even though he only recently joined the coaching staff after the controversial termination of long-time coach Steve Boyd

Bomba has an interesting coaching style, one that he describes as more laid back and less result oriented than most other collegiate coaches. 

“We’ve got a lot of perfectionists on our team, and I am by my normal nature not a perfectionist,” he explained.

Although Bomba’s personality differs from some of the athletes, he believes it helps create a balanced situation where teammates hold each other accountable.

“They pull me one way sometimes when we need to have those conversations that are very serious, and I also try to pull them a bit back and tell them ‘hey, it’s not a big deal,’” Bomba said.

Another guiding principle of the team is support, which Plouvier said is something that’s improved since Bomba joined the coaching staff. Bomba has created a space where athletes can practice inclusivity by sharing their difficult experiences.

“All the girls on the team have gone through their own struggles,” Plouvier said in an interview with The Journal. “I think that has made the environment more inclusive and better for people to reach out if they need help with that kind of stuff.” 

Plouvier believes mental fitness is a huge factor for success.

“Cross country is a very tough sport. You have to be really mentally strong for it, because you are putting your body under so much stress on a daily basis.” 

Men’s Captain Mitchell Kirby is currently running in his sixth season on the team.

He’s watched the team evolve and grow as the rosters have changed. Each season has been different for him, but each is equally challenging.

“There's always a lot of difficulties,” Kirby said in an interview with The Journal. “I don't think I've ever gone through a season that hasn't challenged me in a different or even similar way.”

Bomba said it’s clear to athletes during the recruitment process that support is one of the foundational aspects of his team. 

“If you fall down, don’t worry, we’ll be there to give you some suggestions and support.”

The team is also devoted to personal development. The goal is to leave the cross country not only as a better runner, but as a better person, too.

“At the end of the day it’s more relevant to create better people, and what they are going to do when they walk out of here after school,” Bomba said. 

This focus on personal development, unity, and support has helped the team achieve success. Now, they’re training for the OUA Championship that will be held in London on Oct. 29.

To prepare, Bomba has three main goals: “Keep having fun. Keep laughing. Keep working hard.”

Bomba described how fun infiltrates every moment—even gloomy late-night practices at Fort Henry.

“We had a practice tonight; we go up there and it’s miserable. It’s raining, it’s windy, and it's cold […] I am chatting with one of my assistants and as they go off to start the workout, I say how all I am hearing is a bunch of laughter and giggling in these absolutely terrible conditions.’”

The cross country will continue their well-rounded approach as they prepare for the biggest meet of their season: the U Sports Championship on Nov. 12 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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