On a cold, blustery Midwest morning with a fresh inch of snow on the ground, the Northern Arizona University flag journeyed to the Thomas Zimmer cross country course near Madison, Wisconsin, for the NCAA National Championships. This was the third consecutive trip for an NAU flag to the national meet. I picked up a flag from the athletic program during the home basketball game the week before going to Madison.
Before the race started Saturday, Nov. 17, many spectators from all over the country came up to the flag and asked to take a picture with it. Many young (and young-at-heart) NAU fans also took the flag and ran it up and down the start area. Since it was so cold, waving the flag was a good way to warm up.
As the race began, a large contingent of faithful chanted “N-A-U” when the team ran past the flag. Then the fans ran a short distance across a field to see runners on the first of multiple repeating loops. From the start, our Lumberjacks were all bunched near the front of the pack, and they never looked back. The men from NAU did not disappoint, living up to their pre-race favorite status with a strong race and finish.
On the course, we heard such sentiments as: “I remember our last trip through Flagstaff,” or, “I want to come out and train around Flagstaff sometime.” I also heard, “I can’t believe NAU stole our No. 1 recruit from Wisconsin.”
I think the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce has missed a tremendous opportunity by not sending a representative to these national meets. No longer do we hear questions at the national meet like, “Where is NAU?” and, “Isn’t it too hot to run in the desert with the cactus?”
As we all know, every year, more and more people want to come to Flagstaff to live and train.
Writers of this column have mentioned previously how it’s way past due for Flagstaff to pay homage to our running history with a large public display, such as a mural or signs at the entrances to the city -- or maybe a large running flag? Locations such as the water tank at Buffalo Park have been proposed for a mural.
It’s possible for someone to visit Flagstaff and never realize it is home to multiple high school champions, a three-time cross country college national champion team, and numerous professional athletes and Olympians. That has to change, and I encourage you to contact a member of the city council to voice your support.
Don’t miss another year of NAU at the NCAA national event. Either join other Flagstaff running fans by cheering for the Jacks remotely from the Walkup Skydome, or go to the LaVern Gibson cross country course in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Nov. 23, 2019. It would be great to increase the number of NAU flags flying over the course for the defending national champions.