Cross Country wants to ‘leave a legacy’

Friendship, fun, and podium finishes 

Mitchell Kirby leads the pack.
Supplied by Miles Brackenbury
Queen’s Cross Country had a season to remember, but it’s the team bonds they will never forget—theirs is a story of legacy creation. 
Head Coach Mark Bomba started with the team two years ago and has since anchored the program under one goal: leaving a legacy. Throughout their season, the athletes have bought into this mindset and used it to motivate themselves.
Their legacy is podium finishes and successful races, but also friendship and teamwork that will alter the culture of Queen’s Cross Country forever. 
On Nov. 12, both the men’s and women’s teams travelled to Halifax, Nova Scotia to compete at the U SPORTS Championship. The Gaels didn’t know it yet, but their race would be a historic one—starting with the weather conditions.
Racing in Halifax in November meant tropical storm conditions in frigid weather. Winds were blowing like crazy, and the rain was coming down. 
At the OUA championships the previous week, the men’s team placed second and the women’s team placed fourth. Despite these promising results, they didn’t expect to break the more than 20-year long U SPORTS podium curse.
Group mindset, however, plays a big role in outcome because in cross country scoring and placement is based on how many of your teammates finish well. It’s an individual race until it’s over and the team is used to determine how they’re ranked overall. 
As if this wasn’t pressure enough, the team wanted to earn a podium finish for Mitchell Kirby.
Humble Mitchell Kirby has been running for Queen’s for six years. He’s currently the oldest member of the team and their fastest runner. Knowing this would be his last race, his teammates wanted his legacy at Queen’s to include a podium finish. 
In the face of former Head Coach Steve Boyd’s controversial termination, and the uncertainty of racing during the pandemic, Kirby’s calm presence has led and inspired his team for many years. His teammates speak highly of the impact he’s had on this sport. 
“Mitch is such a steadying force, on our team. He’s just, he’s so level-headed […] he just stays calm and collected,” Miles Brackenbury, another runner, said in an interview with The Journal. 
“[He’s] someone who we all look up to, someone whose talent and performance continues to amaze all of us.”
In the days following the men’s team’s second place finish at OUAs, they felt extremely confident, so Kirby decided to get them back on track. 
He took some runners on a two-hour brutal training run across Kingston’s biggest and toughest hills to bring them back to earth—and the whole time he didn’t say a word. His legacy is one of wisdom and calm leadership. 
So, when it came down to his last race as a Gael, the U SPORTS Championship in Halifax, the team wanted to race for him.
“We really did have that mindset of doing it for Mitch,” Brackenbury said. 
“I remember seeing Mitch go and I was like, I can’t let this guy down,” Jude Wheeler-Dee, another Queen’s runner, said. “Like, he’s put too much in for the team [...] this is Mitch, his legacy, and I just knew I we had to do whatever we could to leave a mark for the team.”
On Nov. 12 in Halifax, the men’s cross country team earned bronze—their first national championship podium in over twenty years. Kirby placed fourth in his final race, and according to Wheeler-Dee he “[didn’t] need that medal for himself. He went out there and cracked the race open—no one earned it more than him.” 
The women’s team also had an incredible race day as rookie Elizabeth Vroom won the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Award for being the fastest in the country.
The award surprised Vroom because she didn’t win the OUA award just weeks prior, meaning she beat out the same rookies who placed ahead of her earlier in the season.
“It wasn’t something I was really expecting coming into that race. So, I don’t know, it was kind of an exciting thing to find out at the end,” she said in an interview with The Journal. 
This year’s bronze finish and rookie award is only part of this team’s legacy. The friendships they built outside of race day and the mindsets they adopted are just as memorable. 
Throughout the season, the team focused on two things: running for each other and having fun. 
Runner Roman Mironov assured The Journal they were having fun. 
“Of the top teams at U SPORTS we are by far the funniest,” he said. “We go about it in a bit of an unorthodox way, like mid race, we will be having conversations with each other. I’m sure if I was an outsider, it would be weird, maybe, I don’t know how I would take it, but it’s fun when we’re out there just running side by side.”
Mironov and Wheeler-Dee best exemplified what it means to run for each other right after the official university season when they raced as individuals in the Canadian National Cross Country Championships. 
Heading into that race the pair knew they each had a pretty good chance at gold because they were racing runners strictly their own age. Issues arose, however, when they realized it could come down to just the two of them at the end. Thankfully, they had a secret plan. 
“We knew that’s how we were going to finish, side by side, but no one else did,” Mironov said. “Everyone else was waiting for the showdown, but this went exactly to plan. Jude and I were in control of the race the entire time, and everyone loved it.”
Not taking themselves too seriously is something the Gaels hope will always be part of the team. Their coach agrees: cross country is about more than how you finish a race.
“[Coach Bomba] doesn’t really care if you become a better athlete. You’ve got to become a better person,” retiring runner Kirby said in an interview with 
The Journal. 
Over his six years as a Gael, this mindset is something Kirby has truly bought into. 
“I definitely don’t think it starts with me,” he said. “[But] I want to be an example, if I could, of holding yourself accountable and going out of your comfort zone. I’m just hoping that maybe I can be someone who helps get the messages across.”
Kirby’s graduation means the Gaels will lose a calming and wise leader. However, after this year’s incredible finish, the Gaels are lined up for a strong track season this winter and an even better cross country season next fall. Kirby’s imprint on the team will be felt.
“It’s like we are playing with Lego; we just keep building and building,” Wheeler-Dee said.

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