Inside Look at the 26th Annual Roy Griak Invitational with Assistant Head Coach Sarah Hesser.

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By: Edwina Reckel

The Roy Griak Invitational one of the largest cross country meets in the nation. For 2011, there will be over 4,000 runners competing from high school, to the college level. Some of the nation's best will be on hand this year.

We got an insiders perspective, from assistant Head Coach, Sarah Hesser, of what it is like to participate in the race from every aspect. Hesser first ran in the race as a 16-year-old from South High School.

"As a high schooler, the Griak opened my eyes to what cross country can be. I hadn't realized before how many athletes and spectators were so passionate about the sport," Hesser said.

It was also her first race against competition outside of Minnesota.

"I remember my mom telling that I passed all of Kansas on an uphill!"

While running at the meet as a high schooler, Hesser also got a glimpse of what the Gopher Cross Country team was all about, which fueled her interest in becoming part of the team. After introducing herself to Coach Wilson and proving her ability by placing in the top 10 and top five throughout her high school career, she joined the U's team in 2006.

However, her first time running as a Golden Gopher did not start out as smoothly as she had hoped.

"My freshman year of college, the Griak did not hold such a special place in my heart," the seventh year assistant coach said. "I went out way too hard and ended up face down in the dirt at the 5K. Not the glorious start to my college cross country career I had anticipated."

In the following three years, Hesser, found her stride and finished as a top 7 runner. She reminisces on being on the U of M's team.

"To have the opportunity to race in front of you home fans with the "M" on your chest is an experience I will never forget."

After graduation, Coach Wilson gave Hesser the opportunity to continue to be part of the team by offering her the assistant coaching position. Part of Hesser's role is to organize the 220 high school teams participating in the Griak.

"Working 'behind the scenes' for the Griak is amazing," Hesser said. "You meet so many people who work tirelessly for months in advance to make the meet what it is. When you are an athlete, you get to show up, run and enjoy the experience. In a way, you think you know how hard people work, but when you see it up close it is truly a thing of beauty. The passion that people have for this meet and this sport never ceases to amaze me."

Throughout all of the meets Hesser has participated in and now planned, the Griak still holds a special place in her memory.

"Everyone works so hard to show up on one day, in one race and tries to give it everything they've got. Sometimes you pass the whole state of Kansas on an uphill and sometimes you end up face down in the dirt trying to breathe, but you always know that you have raced in the Roy Griak Invitational and you will take that with you for the rest of your life."


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