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The best thing I saw last week: A runner stepping up when her team needed her the most

This is a column written by Jared Rubado about Detroit Lakes cross country runner Mia Hanson stepping up to run a varsity race to complete a qualifiable roster in the Lakers' only home meet. This is column does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Detroit Lakes Tribune.

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Jared Rubado
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DETROIT LAKES – Most of the photos I take at sporting events never see the light of day.

If you’ve seen me at a game, match or meet, you’ve probably noticed I’m near the end zone, behind the backboard or at the finish line. Photographers don’t get to watch games from the best seats in the house.

I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. That would be disingenuous to the people that actually take professional photos. But I’ve found ways to set myself up in optimal spots for usable pictures. I take 200-300 photos in an average game and use 6-10.

Photos get left out because they’re blurry or uninteresting. Then there are unflattering photos. Sometimes I’ll get a great shot, but a kid is making a weird face. Then you have to ask yourself, “Would I want this in the paper if it were a picture of me?” High school kids deal with enough socially. They don’t need the newspaper guy putting a picture of them on the front page if they wouldn’t post it themselves.

The sensitivity in shooting photos has always presented a tricky line to tip-toe. I never want to make a kid feel any more vulnerable than they already do, which is why I was so impressed with Detroit Lakes’ Mia Hanson at last week’s cross country meet.

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The Detroit Lakes girls cross country team is going through the wringer. Many of the Lakers’ varsity runners are injured, and some were out with an illness during their home meet last Thursday. At the start of the meet, head coach Ryan Zunich had four girls on his varsity roster.

The best thing I saw last week was a kid stepping up when she didn’t need to. Hanson chose to run in a varsity race for the first time, giving the Lakers a chance to have five runners cross the finish line. To score in the standings, each team must have at least five runners finish.

Unless you have a family member who’s participated in cross country, there’s a good chance you haven’t been to a meet. Lakeview Golf Course is set up for athletes to run two laps. They start in a big crowd before the pack thins across the course.

Spectators line every visible area of the path to watch the runners. There’s no hiding when you run cross country.

When I think of what it would be like for a kid to step up with no varsity experience in other sports, I’d imagine it’d be easier to hide some of the faults. There are 22 players on a football field, 22 on a soccer pitch, 20 on the tennis courts, 12 on the ice, 12 on a volleyball court, 10 on a basketball court and nine on the field in softball and baseball. In cross country, you are all alone if you’re in the back.

“Mia was our fifth runner, and she typically wouldn’t be running in the varsity lineup,” Zunich said. “Since we only had five, that’s where she was at. It takes guts to go out there and do it. It’s pretty easy to say no and take a week off instead of doing that. It’s hard to show people, especially people you might know, how hard it hurts and how you might not look your greatest.”

Hanson finished the race in 37:31.2. Without her, the Lakers don’t complete a team score in their only home meet.

Unsung athletes stepping up isn’t entirely unique, but it was necessary for the Lakers last Thursday. It’s incredibly admirable to see a high school kid put a team before themselves in a situation like that. It shows that you don’t have to be the biggest, fastest or strongest to have an impact. You never know when your number will be called to help the team.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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