Seeking the big prize now and forever

Oldham County High School runners, from left, Emma Watkins, Savannah Cagle and Ashley Terry are hoping for a third consecutive state championship. They believe running is an opportunity to glorify God. (Photo by John Herndon)

these Colonels seek to ‘run for his pleasure’

By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

— I Corinthians 9:24-25 (New International Version)

BUCKNER, Ky. — They run. Then they run some more, these girls on the cross country team at Oldham County High School.

And they are quite accustomed to getting the prize. Trophies commemorating two consecutive state team championships are on display in the school trophy case and say these girls know all about what it takes to earn the greatest prize their sport has to offer at the prep level.

But when we recently caught up with three Lady Colonels for a socially-distanced interview, it was apparent that as much as they want to keep the championship string going — and there’s no doubt that fire burns deep — their ultimate prize can’t be won running up and down hills and won’t be recognized on a podium at the Kentucky Horse Park.

“There’s a quote that says if Christ is anything, he must be everything. God has given me the ability to run, so if he has given me that ability, I want to display His glory,” says senior Savannah Cagle. 

Cagle has been a big part of both state championship teams and finished sixth individually in 2018. She believes there’s more to running than navigating a course.

Savannah Cagle puts some distance between herself and some opponents during a race last fall. (Photo courtesy Sam Draut, The Oldham Era)

“I love what Eric Liddell says that when he runs fast, he feels God’s pleasure,” she goes on, referencing the British Olympian whose story of faith and conviction was the inspiration for the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.

“If my life were just running, it would be a life of ups and downs, a roller coaster, but since Christ is in me and I have this joy and hope, I just run for Christ and I have joy running.”

It’s an attitude that Liddell carried through the 1924 Olympics, seeing his work on the track as a way to honor God. And at Oldham County, it has become a major source of inner strength on a team that has become somewhat of a dynasty in distance running. It’s what prompted Sam Draut, the sports editor of The Oldham Era, to contact 110forChrist.com about a possible story. 

In 2018, the Lady Colonels’ total time (the aggregate of the top five runners) was just shy of 3½ minutes ahead of runner-up Daviess County. Last fall, Oldham repeated with a time more than 2½ minutes ahead of second place DuPont Manual. According to Oldham coach Kirk Thomas, both margins are among the five widest in Kentucky history.

If we were talking about basketball or football, we would be referring to blowouts at the state final. 

In addition, Oldham’s five scorers, or the five fastest times, have been among the individual bests both years. In 2018, three Lady Colonels earned individual medals for finishing in the Top 15 at the state. The other two scorers placed in the Top 20.

That’s out of 286 runners.

A year ago, four Oldham runners medaled with the fifth, Ashley Terry, placing 23rd in a field of 287 runners.

It’s pack running at its best. Last fall, Lady Colonels Ella Henage, Grace Wyland and Cagle finished 11th, 12th and 13th with only 54/100 second between the three. 

“It was really insane, honestly,” Terry remembers. “We were all so proud of each other.”

Ashley Terry focuses on a high finish at the 2019 state championship meet at the Kentucky Horse Park. (Photo courtesy Sam Draut, The Oldham Era)

And like Cagle, Terry attributes her strength and much of the team’s strength to a deep faith in Jesus Christ. “We know we can’t do anything without the Lord,” Terry says, “and a lot of us are really focused on that. We know that our faith is in the forefront and that God is in control of all things. So I think going to state it is really important to remind ourselves that He already knows the outcome but we just have to trust in Him and trust our coaches that we are going to do what the Lord has planned for us to do.”

Cagle, Terry and another senior we talked with, Emma Watkins, share a bond that goes beyond the cross country course. While they’ve taken different journeys in their faith they have grown together at Crestwood Baptist Church. Their faith is evident in the leadership roles they live every day. 

Watkins remembers that last year, while captain of the Oldham junior varsity, her simple gesture of gathering the team for a pre-race prayer was a source of personal strength. “I would pray or one of the other girls would pray,” she remembers. “One of the things we would pray for was no injuries.”

There never has been a prayer for first place or record times, but instead about things that last much longer. “We just thank the Lord for giving us the opportunity to race,” Terry says. “It’s not about winning. It’s about He gave us the ability to be there and just give the glory to Him.”

As we talked, it was apparent that Cagle, Terry and Watkins are normal teenage girls. They don’t flaunt their faith, yet seem somewhat comfortable in sharing how they live their faith on the course. It’s a reason Draut, their local sports editor, contacted 110forChrist.com.

“Whether she is speaking on individual or team success during interviews, Savannah always gives glory to God,” Draut said. “She reiterates her trust in God when asked about future uncertainty and potential goals that herself or the team is seeking.”

Yet while these Lady Colonels possess outstanding athletic ability and have experienced success at a level that few can even imagine, all three admit they battle the same struggles most other teens.

“I really started growing in my relationship with Christ when I was in middle school,” Cagle says. “I struggled a lot with fear. I love to compare my relationship with Christ and my life with running because it’s not easy but it’s a joy to do and both are glorifying to Christ.”

Terry, who says she accepted Christ while in middle school, adds, “Since then it’s really been a growing relationship. I also struggled with fear and anxiety for a long time. The main thing I have been growing with is that the Lord is in control and that he knows I need to trust Him. He already knows the outcome for everything. The main thing I have to focus on is to trust Him and trust His plan.”

Emma Watkins gets some work in at the Oldham County High School track. (Photo by John Herndon)

Watkins recalls a time when her Christian walk was not close to the level it is today. After accepting Christ when she was 7, Watkins remembers, “I got into this habit of I would go to church but when I got home or to school, I was like a different person. In middle school, it just kind of hit and ever since then, I have been drawing closer and trying to stay in His word more and more.”

They are stories that are told over and over. Cagle, Terry and Watkins go through the same things nearly every other young person at Oldham County or any other school experience. They’ve reached extraordinary levels of athletic success.

But most of all, they are grounded, knowing that the Bible is a living book and faith in Christ is meant to be lived in every aspect of life.

Including running.

“We pray that we can run for His glory,” Cagle says. “That helps us have fun when we run.”

And Savannah references I Corinthians 9. “Paul says to run with endurance and keep your eye on the prize,” Savannah says. “We can compare running with life and keep our eye on Jesus. We want the trophy, but for eternity, this doesn’t matter. We get to run for His glory!”

At a glance

Savannah Cagle is a senior at Oldham County High School. She has finished sixth and 13th individually at the last two KHSAA cross country championships. She’s unsure of her college plans, keeping the school and program of study open at this time. “I know I want to run,” she says.

Savannah cites Psalm 121 as a favorite scripture. “I look unto the hills for my help,” she says. “My help comes from the Lord. I love (that passage). It gives me peace and I know He’s watching me.”

Ashley Terry is also a senior at Oldham County. She’s finished 20th and 23rd in the last two KHSAA meets. Ashley also wants to run in college, but is unsure what school that will be. Her plan is to pursue a career in special education.

When asked about her favorite verse of Scripture, she quoted Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (NIV).”

“I love that verse,” Ashley says. “I have a lot of fear and anxiety and that just reminds me He’s always there.”

Emma Watkins is another senior at Oldham County. She’s not run at the state in the past but expects to end her cross country career in the state final at the Kentucky Horse Park. She plans on attending Western Kentucky University to study exercise science for a career in physical therapy. 

Emma says she draws inspiration from Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

At the state

2018

  1. Oldham County 1:40:12.44 (6-10-12-16-20)
  2. Daviess County 1:43:42.30 (2-33-34-46-59)
  3. Lafayette 1:44:53.79 (17-22-40-54-56)

OCHS individuals: 6. Savannah Cagle 19:36:54; 10. Katy Chapman 19:48.54; 12, Jacquelyn Ellsworth 20:06.84; 16. Anna Constant 20:16.31; 20. Ashley Terry 20:24.21.

2019

  1. Oldham County 58 (3-10-11-12-22) 1:38:09.06
  2. Dupont Manual 151 (2-6-40-48-55)  1:40:45.77
  3. Sacred Heart 153 (13-17-23-26-74) 1:40:54.09

OCHS individuals: 3. Chloe Boa 19:19.95; 11. Ella Henage 19:37.44; 12. Grace Wayland 19:37.52; 13. Savannah Cagle 19:37.98; 23. Ashley Terry 19:56.17.

One thought on “Seeking the big prize now and forever

  1. What an inspiration these young student athletes from OC Cross Country. Way to let your lights shine and be that Lighthouse for others to see. The love you have for your school, sport and team, the humbleness you have in your success . High school role models for so many who are in search of something. You have shown them the way in. Ring a LightHouse for the Lord and encourage in your scriptures and how the Bible is your road map to success. Prayers and blessings to each of you and thanks for sharing such an inspiring story.

    Liked by 1 person

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