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Gideon Zaugg, 17, a senior at Ramstein, bolts out in front of the pack during the beginning of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Gideon Zaugg, 17, a senior at Ramstein, bolts out in front of the pack during the beginning of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany - More than 120 runners dashed through rolling German foothills at a high school cross country meet Saturday in Kaiserslautern.

The winner of the boys’ varsity race, Elijah Smith of Wiesbaden, sprinted down the course’s final stretch: a flat, slightly downhill 600-meter straightaway to the finish line.

Piper Parsells, 16, a junior at Kaiserslautern, races to the finish line at a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Piper Parsells, 16, a junior at Kaiserslautern, races to the finish line at a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

This season won’t be taken for granted, said Smith, who finished the 5-kilometer race in 16 minutes, 30 seconds.

Like other high school athletes in the early days of their second pandemic-tinged cross country season, he said he’s getting used to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

Elijah Smith, a runner for Wiesbaden, flies toward the finish line as the winner of the high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Elijah Smith, a runner for Wiesbaden, flies toward the finish line as the winner of the high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

“I’m hoping to have a normal season,” Smith said, adding he hopes infection numbers don’t spike up and affect upcoming events.

Smith, like other runners, said he runs alone more often than he used to, due to restrictions on training in large groups.

Runners take off at the beginning of a high school girls’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Runners take off at the beginning of a high school girls’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

Another runner, Gideon Zaugg, a senior at Ramstein, said he’s come to enjoy those long solitary training runs.

“I’ve been able to run at my own pace,” said Zaugg, who finished second - 11 seconds behind Smith.

Daniel Lee, a runner at Kaiserslautern, paces himself during the beginning of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Daniel Lee, a runner at Kaiserslautern, paces himself during the beginning of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

Ramstein had five runners finish in the top 10 of Saturday’s boys’ race, which also featured competitors from the host Kaiserslautern Raiders and Black Forest Academy.

Zaugg said he feels better about the season than he did last year.

Naomi Boyd, a runner at Black Forest Academy, dashes down the final stretch of a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Naomi Boyd, a runner at Black Forest Academy, dashes down the final stretch of a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

“Last year, there was less certainty, you didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said.

He was one of a number of Royals who found time between school and running to volunteer to help Afghan refugees brought to the base after the sudden American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Brandon Maul, a runner at Kaiserslautern, overtakes another competitor during the final stretch of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Brandon Maul, a runner at Kaiserslautern, overtakes another competitor during the final stretch of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

Another volunteer was Brenna Mack, a junior at Ramstein, and winner of the girls’ varsity race. Mack, who finished with a time of 20: 47, has been helping sort clothes donated for the Afghan evacuees.

The ongoing pandemic continues to affect training, said Piper Parsells, a Kaiserslautern junior, who finished third.

Brenna Mack, 16, a junior at Ramstein, finishes as the winner of the high school girls’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Brenna Mack, 16, a junior at Ramstein, finishes as the winner of the high school girls’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

“There’s not as much teambuilding,” she said.

On her home course Saturday, she said she always enjoys the last stage of the race: “I love ending on the downhill slope.”

Kaleena Sais, a runner at Baumholder, charges down the final stretch of a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Kaleena Sais, a runner at Baumholder, charges down the final stretch of a high school girls’ varsity cross country meet Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
Zach Watts, a runner for Wiesbaden, goes all out during the finish of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Zach Watts, a runner for Wiesbaden, goes all out during the finish of a high school boys’ varsity cross country race Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)
author headshot
J.p. Lawrence reports on the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2017. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School and Bard College and is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.
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