APPLETON — Luke Bailey and Nathan Broullire set out to clear their minds on the eve of the WIAA state cross country meet. The St. Francis Xavier High School (Appleton) standouts wanted to create a distraction from the anticipation of their final prep race. They chose a trip to a store to buy candy and bowling among their activities.
The strategy was successful. Bailey won the individual WIAA Division 2 state boys’ cross country championship in a time of 15:44.80 on Oct. 29 at The Ridges golf course in Wisconsin Rapids. Broullire earned his way into the top 10, finishing sixth in a time of 16:16:76.
Bailey was the favorite entering the race. He had competed at the state meet the previous three years, including a third place finish as a junior. Outside expectations did not bother him, he said.
“I tried to focus on myself and not really worry about what others were expecting of me,” he said. “I expect it out of myself. I knew the work that I did to prepare for it. That was all I could do. I wanted to leave it all out there. To be able to say that I’m the state champ is a great feeling.”
Experience on the course was helpful for Bailey, who is originally from Maine. He knew the challenges of the terrain, especially the back hill with approximately 900 meters left in the race.
“When you are back there, you don’t have many spectators, so it’s hard mentally,” explained Bailey. “It’s also hard physically to push through that. My goal was to go through the two-mile pretty easy and lay it down on the back side because of the hill that I knew would be there. I knew some guys would be near me. That’s where I hoped to gap them and luckily I did.”
When Bailey crossed the finish line, he made the sign of the cross. He thought about all the hard work that led to that moment.
“I had thought about it since my freshman year, what it would be like my senior year to be able to cross the finish line in first,” he said. “To have a good gap and be comfortable at the finish is unexplainable.”
Taking his place among the top cross country runners in Division 2 was especially satisfying for Broullire after what happened a year earlier. He qualified for the state meet as a junior, but an appendectomy prevented him from competing. Pain from his ailment started on the day of sectionals.
“The bus ride was miserable,” he explained. “When we got there, I grabbed a blanket and just lay in the tent. I didn’t warm up. I was going to run because it is state and I put in all the time. I stepped on the line and ended up making it to state. The pain set in again.”
The next day, the pain continued. Broullire sought medical care at an urgent care facility, but did not receive a diagnosis. He later visited the emergency room and had to undergo the operation, which ended his state hopes.
The 2016 state meet was Broullire’s first race in Wisconsin Rapids since 2013, when the Xavier boys advanced to state as a team.
“To be back and be able to have another shot at the course was my goal,” he said. “I definitely wanted the podium and I knew it was reasonable. I just wanted to go out there and run as hard as I could.”
Both Broullire and Bailey plan to run in college. Bailey has received interest from Montana, South Dakota, South Dakota State and Western State Colorado. Running at the next level is a necessity, said Broullire.
“I couldn’t just go to college and focus on only school,” he said. “I need that extra commitment. When I’m passionate about something I put 110 percent into it. I think school would get to me if I didn’t have running.”
Both athletes joke about their humble beginnings in the sport.
“I would always do these fun runs,” said Broullire. “My parents would take me to those and I always remember being so nervous, just crazy nervous. (The races) were like two laps in a field.”
“I was like 3 or 4 when I went to a little race at a hardware store in Maine,” said Bailey with a laugh. “The race was one or two laps around the hardware store.”
Both seniors are interested in environmental sciences, wildlife and biology as possible areas of study. Bailey continues to train for the upcoming Foot Locker Midwest Regional in Kenosha. A top 10 finish would earn a trip to nationals in San Francisco. Broullire may compete in wrestling for Xavier. The duo will be track and field teammates in the spring. Broullire finished second in Division 2 in the 800 meter run last season. Bailey finished fifth at state in the 3200 meter run.
“The dedication that we take from running will apply to things later in life,” said Bailey. “There’s nothing like cross country, the team aspect and the running aspect. It was an awesome experience.”