Senior Callie Russo’s path to Orange Lutheran’s cross country team was more of a spur-of-the-moment decision rather than a well-calculated plan. Prior to running for the Lancers, she had no experience with competitive running -- only running in her physical education classes in middle school. It turned out to be a sport she loves.
“I ended up really liking [cross country] and stuck with it all the way,” said the 17-year-old Russo.
Once her cross country career began, she quickly found that she enjoyed competing because the races motivated her in a new way. But doing it as a Lancer was even more important to her.
“We're running for God,” Russo says. “We care about everyone on the team. We care about our school. We’re not just running for ourselves. We’re running for everyone else around us.”
While the joy of competing for her school has been exhilarating, the journey over the past four years hasn’t come without challenges.
“The hardest part is trying to mentally keep going during a race,” says Russo. “There have been a bunch of races before where I’ve just given up mentally...I’ve done all the training, I’ve prepared, I’m physically ready to handle it, but sometimes I’ve mentally given up.”
Aside from mental hurdles, there are the unique circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many other sports, the pandemic has caused uncertainty as to whether or not Russo will get to compete in her senior season, however, she continues to train relentlessly.
“It’s really hard because I would be like, ‘Am I even going to race?’ It has been very hard mentally.”
Russo’s discipline and character have helped her persevere through both the internal and external challenges. During the quarantine from March to June 2020, she completed every home drill and workout given to her. That dedication didn’t go unnoticed as head coach Kristen Goossens rewarded Callie by naming her a team captain.
“Callie is the epitome of what every coach would want to have in his/her program,” Coach Goossens says. “She leads by example daily and is an amazing role model for the other athletes in our program.”
In the same way she faced the pandemic head-on through her work ethic, it’s the lessons she learned on the course that have helped her in other facets of her life. Russo takes numerous AP and honors classes at OLu while maintaining a 4.3 GPA.
“Running in a race has definitely taught me to keep going mentally when I want to give up, when things are piling up, or I don’t think I can handle it,” she says. “The mental part has helped me push through other things that are hard.”
At press time, youth sports contests were still prohibited based on guidelines from the California Department of Public Health. If a season does occur, Russo says her goals are to win CIF again and break a 19-minute 3-mile.
For the time being, Russo will continue to inspire her teammates through a leadership style that is less about talk and more about action.
“I lead by example by what I do,” Russo says. “My commitment, what I do at practice, showing up early...that is where my leadership is.”
Russo plans to study either business or communications in college this fall but is undecided on where she will attend. Though she doesn't plan to join her college team, she intends to continue running as a means to staying healthy. No matter what happens, she knows that she always has the support of her family, especially her dad.
“He has always told me never give up; there is always a way.”
*To watch "The Walk" with Callie click HERE!