Conquering at Conference

In the main gym of Providence Academy, there are six banners hung along the east wall, each signifying a school in the IMAC Conference. On Thursday, October 14th, the PA Cross Country team took on the five other teams represented by those banners in the annual Conference Race at Battle Creek Park. Though a challenging course, of the 29 Providence runners who competed, 23 turned in their best times of the season and 14 finished in the best times of their career.

Unlike last year, where only a limited number of people were allowed to participate, this race welcomed back every runner. Coach Dan Hickel remarked, “It felt like we were back to normal. There was much excitement to just be together again with the runners who were doing what they love to do.”

Liz Burns ’23 and Brooke Kahrl ’27 smile as they run up one of the hardest hills in any race this year. (PAW Photo Credit: Dan Hickel)

In preparation for the race, Hickel said, “There was a lot more talk about teamwork, and how to get the team members to push each other to become better because it is a race we know, a race we’ve done, and a race that is a ‘finish line’ for the entire season.”

This is a very exciting race for the team, especially since it is near the end of the season. Aidan Flynn ‘24 remarked, “One of the first thoughts that came to me after I crossed the finish line was how crazy it is that the season is almost over. It’s sad that I will no longer be racing with some of these people, who I have been running with for years, ever again in a few weeks.” 

With the seniors leaving and many middle school participants on the team, Flynn is looking forward to stepping into more of a leadership. “I was so used to being one of the younger guys on the team, so now being one of the role models for the younger runners this year is a change for me.,” he reflected.

Flynn continued, “I try to make the younger runners feel the same way as my role models did me when I was their age.” 

One of these role models is team captain and senior, Emma Kelly ‘22. She commented on the race night itself, “This year, the weather was beautiful, I know the course, and being a senior gave me a new perspective.”

Kelly placed second, and per the awards ceremony tradition, she was called up to the stage to receive her winners’ t-shirt. She remembers, “It felt really good to walk up there as a senior, after placing the highest I’ve ever placed in that course, looking back and seeing how far I’ve come.”

The boys team says their team prayer before heading to the start line. (PAW Photo Credit: Dan Hickel)

Overall, both the girls and boys teams placed fifth in the conference, but as Hickel noted, “The main goal was to have all the runners reach their personal goals. [The coaching staff] didn’t care how we placed as a team but wanted the runners to feel like they had grown since the first race. We are happy with their times, their growth as individuals, and as a team.”

How Many XC Runners Does It Take to Set Up a Triathlon?

From left to right: Abigail Koch ’25, Kiera Marshall ’25, Aidan Flynn ’24, Kira Cmiel ’23, and Melia Cmiel ’25 show off their volunteer t-shirts. (PAW photo credit: Terry Lee)

Running, biking, swimming–all things a cross country team does as part of their training.  But for the Providence Academy cross country team, they’re also a way to annually partner with a local non-profit organization to help children of all ages and capabilities.

CycleHealth, an Eden Prairie-based non-profit focused on beginning a new “cycle” of health in America through kids, puts together one of their signature events: the BreakAway Kids Triathlon. And for nearly a decade, PA’s cross country team has put in countless volunteer hours to help put together this amazing event.

In 2012, head cross country coach Mrs. Rachel Fogle was on the lookout for a meaningful team outreach.  She recalls,  “I wanted the team to find the value in helping others. [CycleHealth Director] Tony Schiller called me one day, looking for a few volunteers to come and help by running next to a couple of kids with special needs at the triathlon. It’s just expanded from there.” 

Schiller, CycleHealth co-founder, and national triathlon champion spoke about why this event means so much to him: “This race is to give kids a new outlook, and a feeling of ‘I can do things in life.” 

Schiller continued, “For any young person close to where I was as a kid–if they’re not confident in sports or have not had victory in movement–I want to make sure that when they come to one of our events, they cross the finish line and their thought is ‘I just did this.’

The annual Saturday morning event takes a team effort to set up. The first volunteering shifts start on Thursday afternoon and go all the way into late Saturday. Team captain, Sophie Koch ‘22, was one of the many people who were there for almost all of the volunteer shifts. 

Though the hours were demanding, Koch drew on the general enthusiasm to keep her own energy up. She noted, “Just the whole energy of the event, when you’re there at 6:30 in the morning, it’s what keeps you going throughout the day.” 

Koch continued, “It’s a really good team of people to volunteer with because those who are there really want the kids to have a good time. 

XC captain Sophie Koch ’22 poses with her sister, Abigail Koch ’25, in front of the supply van before unloading for the triathlon. (PAW photo credit: CycleHealth)

Schiller agrees, it does take a team to put together the BreakAway Kids Triathlon, and is thankful for the helping hands of PA cross country. “We wouldn’t have been able to get it done without this team. I’m filled with gratitude for the commitment and the joy they bring to the work.”

All this work doesn’t come without a little bit of fun. After the racers had finished, there was a big party in the bubble machine. When asked what her favorite memory from the 2021 Kids Triathlon was, Fogle agreed that she “loved watching the PA volunteers play in the bubbles. It really showed the spirit of the team. They’d spent hours doing grueling work, but they still found the fun in the day.”

David Bakke ’24, Nolan Semsch ’25, Thomas Slattery ’25, and Aly Marshall ’23 pose together before heading off to their stations.

But the hard work and fun do not end here. CycleHealth puts together 4 different events throughout the year, amazing volunteering opportunities and fun outdoor activities to join with family and friends. While the cross country team will be too busy training for sections during CycleHealth’s next event, there are plenty of chances for families and kids of all ages at this year’s Resilinator, an epic 2.5-mile buddy race filled with obstacles and fun challenges. For more information, visit