Navigating through the 5,000-meter UIL 6A state cross country course Saturday was practically a blur for Hays High sophomore Abby Parra.
“It just went by really fast,” Parra said. “One second I was starting and the next second, I was finishing.”
What happened between that time mattered most for Parra who seized 17th place out of more than 140 runners, capping off a successful second straight trip to the UIL state championships. The journey to get there, however, was filled with some challenges that mirrored the path cross country runners often take.
“I had some good races (earlier this season), but other times, I felt like I could have done better,” Parra said. “Just with faster times, I boosted myself knowing I could get here again.”
Hays cross country head coach Traci Hightower cited Parra’s cool-as-a-cucumber mindset as the reason for her success. While Parra got caught in the pack off the starting line, she battled her way into the top 50 after the first half mile.
By finding “places to slide through” between runners, Hightower said Parra improved her positioning to 26th place by the time she got to the final 1,000-meters. Parra maintained momentum down the stretch to clinch a top 20 finish.
“She’s a competitor. She balances the stress and handles the pressure very well, so her mind isn’t in the way of her body,” Hightower said. ”She has an attacking mindset to push through the pain.”
Familiarity with the state meet course also played a role in Parra’s success. She hopes to improve upon her finish as she vies for a third straight trip to state next season.
“I hope I can improve my times a lot,” Parra said.
Meanwhile, Hays High senior Jaden Tumale closed his high school cross country career by completing the UIL 6A boys course in roughly 20 minutes. Tumale became the first Hays High boy in roughly six years to qualify for the state meet, the first under Hightower.
Perseverance is how Tumale secured his ticket to state, overcoming injury and illness to reach Round Rock, Hightower said. She also lauded Tumale’s abilty to adjust and make the necessary changes to allow for that success, whether it be diet, running style or other attributes.
Tumale pointed to his predecessors who taught him the importance of perseverance.
“That drive and perseverance, those values stuck with me and helped me to try and want to leave a legacy like the guys before me did,” Tumales said. “I wanted to leave a mark on this program and leave a mark on the guys coming behind me.”
That perseverance helped Tumale power through struggles he had Saturday. While he kept up with the pace within the first mile, Tumale fell back after he started feeling ill.
It was the support from teammates and those who came out to push him on that gave Tumale the boost to finish, he said.
“Even though it wasn’t my best day, it wasn’t about me. It was about the teammates helping to push me though practice,” Tumale said. “It’s not my own accomplishment. While it’s an indivudal accolade, it’s definitely not soemthing that’s earned by one person. It takes a team, it takes a family.”