When the history books are written about the great philosophers of this era rapper Juelz Santana is not likely going to be one of the first names listed.
Yet there was a lyric from one of Santana’s songs on the back of Narragansett cross country coach Robert Shields’ sweatshirt as he checked in on Marissa McPhillips after the sophomore Mariner had literally given it everything she had at Sunday’s RI Girls State Championship.
“Hard work pays off, you get what you put in.”
If anyone knows how true that is, it’s McPhillips.
“Her work ethic has always been top notch,” Shields said after Sunday’s race. “She’s more than just an athlete now, she’s a leader on our team. Truly she leads by example and it’s that drive, that determination to help others that kind of pushes her to succeed as well.”
After the first mile of Sunday’s race McPhillips knew she would be in for a test as some of the state’s best runners pushed the pace from the get go.
“When I heard 5:50 I knew that I’d gone out too fast,” McPhillips said. “The funny thing is the first mile you feel good because it’s only the first mile, you’ve got everyone around you cheering. It’s great, your adrenaline’s going and once you hit that first hill it’s like, ‘oh man. Too fast. Too fast.’”
McPhillips pushed on though, working her way into the top 15 heading into the final straight away on Ponagaset’s football field.
Then with about 50 yards to go it became clear that McPhillips’ body had enough as her knees began to buckle before she fell to the ground.
In an instance as this anyone would have understood if she had given up but as McPhillips tells it something too similar had happened to her earlier in the season and she was not about to allow it to happen again.
“This happened at Connecticut a few weeks ago before class [championships] and I actually collapsed a few feet from the line,” McPhillips said. “I didn’t hear the official say you didn’t finish and you have to keep going so they ended up taking me off and I just missed finishing.
“This time when I collapsed I said to myself, ‘I have to finish this. There is no way I’m getting pulled off again when I’m this close. I have to get through.’”
So that’s just what she did, crawling on hands and knees, reaching forward until she finally got to the finish line in what was one or the more courageous, inspiring acts you’ll see on an athletic field.
“That’s just a testament to who she is as an individual,” Shields said. “She’s always putting forth her best effort. She’s always striving to try and achieve a higher place or just to succeed even in the classroom. She’s just a well-rounded individual that puts everything into whatever she wants to succeed at.”
It took McPhillips about 30 seconds to get to the line after going down as she finished in 24th place – still good enough to qualify for the New England Championships – but if you’re thinking this is a sympathy story about an athlete who came up short think again; it’s a warning to the competition.
When you look at what separates the good from the great it’s that innate ability to push oneself and work harder than the rest.
It’s one of those things that cannot be learned, that the elite athletes either have or don’t and Sunday it was clear; McPhillips has got it.
“It’s off the charts,” Shields said of McPhillips’ potential. “She’s an outstanding athlete and she’s only going to get better the older she gets.”
Evan Crawley is an assistant editor with SRI Newspapers and can be reached by phone at (401) 789-9744 ext. 128 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org