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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Steve Christilaw: Links strong in Spokane region’s cross country world

Disney had it right. This is a small, small world.

I found out just how small it really was at Thanksgiving.

My daughter-in-law hosted this year’s gathering for our extended family, and there is a lot of extending with this bunch – more than just to the table to fit everyone all the way around. There are variations and extension to all of the relationships in this family.

I ignore them. My daughter-in-law? She is my daughter and love flows accordingly. I use the same rule of thumb with everyone else. It is my humble belief that, like most people on Facebook, the heart pays no attention to grammar and has no need for hyphens.

Mary falls into one those categories where you can use a number of hyphens to get to an accurate description. When you do, it looks like one of those sentence diagrams most of us avoided like the plague and I do. Avidly.

I spotted Mary holding a newborn while standing around the table awaiting the bird. I don’t know her extremely well, but I think the world of her and her two beautiful children.

Mary said something I heard, at best, half of – my hearing at such family gatherings gets worse with each passing year. I heard her ask if I still wrote for the newspaper. Then she asked if I had written a story about Ferris cross country earlier this year.

I said I had.

She them explained something in a sentence that included the phrases “my husband” and “cross country” and “new book.”

I had read and previously have written about a new book on cross country in the Greater Spokane area, a recently published book titled “Varsity Seven: An American Rift Valley.” I liked it, in part because I know a number of the people included in the storyline.

“I’ve read it,” I told her. “It was good.”

That brought a big smile to her face.

I enjoyed watching Mary and her husband with their two little boys and chatted happily with her husband about cross country running. He had attended the state championships at Sun Willows in Pasco and had watched the Class 2A girls race unfold and knew that it had ended in a tie and that West Valley had won the state title on a tiebreaker based on its No. 6 runner.

I told him the story of Emma Garza, the No. 6 runner, and how she came to decide the state title. The smile on his face told me that he was indeed a fan of the sport.

What I didn’t catch in what she’d said was important. It was the reason she had mentioned the book in the first place. Her husband is the author, Peter Hawkins.

The whole story fell into place last week when I did a phone interview with him. The voice sounded familiar as we chatted between classes at Richland High School.

Once I hung up I browsed through my copy of the book. In the back, under acknowledgments, he’d written:

“I must thank my wife Mary, who was and is a distance runner in her own right. She gave me the time and support to chase down this dream. She blazes a trail of greatness that I will forever follow.”

Duh. As in, how duh-umb am I?

We had talked at length about the future of distance running in the Spokane area.

My contention has always been that boys cross country may be the most fiercely competed sport in any league in the country. There are teams from Spokane that would easily finish in the Top 10 at the state meet who simply have to stay home because there aren’t enough qualifying slots.

Peter pointed out that it’s only going to get tougher.

There’s going to be a new high school going in at Central Valley, he said.

“The valley has seen state championships and almost state championships at Central Valley and West Valley,” he said. “I think it’s already the heart of running in the area and I think it’s only going to get better. I know I’m going to put my name in to be the cross country coach there.”

I can definitely see that happening.

Peter’s family has a long history at both Ferris and at University High. I remember watching his older brother, Isaac, leading some outstanding Saxon teams. I saw his sister, Emily, run.

I have written about the side of the Hawkins family that settled in the valley and sent a host of very good runners through U-Hi.

One of the benefits of hindsight with a sport is that you get a feel for not only where it’s been, but where it’s going.

I was a classmate with Lynn Weitz at West Valley along with his sisters, Jan and Judy, who earned the Eagles their first girls Class AA state championship.

I’ve had the great privilege of knowing a number of outstanding running coaches over the years. And I am proud to watch as their sons have stepped up to be the new leaders of the sport.

I am proud to know there is an excellent historian of the sport in the family.

And if his future is to be a coach in this incredible community, I will be on the sidelines cheering him on.

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