Last November, Will Carter and Kim Lyle basked in the spotlight.

Carter, of Seoul American, and Lyle, of Kadena on Okinawa, became only the second pair of Department of Defense Dependents Schools runners to capture the individual boys and girls 3.1-mile races in the 25-year history of Far East High School cross country championships.

But neither senior will get a chance to defend those titles — there’s no Far East cross country championship this year, and that disturbs them.

“It’s like eating dinner without dessert,” Carter said of competing in a cross-country season without a closing Far East meet. “It stinks. It’s very frustrating.”

Lyle, a three-sport star, also is disappointed that Far East cross country championships are biennial, alternating with tennis, while nearly every other competitive sport in the Pacific — volleyball, basketball, wrestling and soccer — all conclude with a Far East tournament every year.

“It’s unfair that all the other sports get Far East, something to look forward to,” Lyle said.

“It’s the only decent event around here,” said Brieanna Carroll, a junior and three-sport star at Pusan American, which finished ninth at last year’s Far East showdown.

On Okinawa, there are only three schools — Kadena, Kubasaki and Okinawa Christian International — competing in the Okinawa High School Athletic Association. The numbers are much higher in Korea and the Kanto Plain Association of Secondary Schools, which adds to Lyle’s frustration.

“It would be a lot better if our league had something like Kanto or Korea, more teams to compete with,” Lyle said.

Coaches also don’t like the concept of holding Far East meets every other year.

“Of course, it should be an every-year sport,” said Yokota coach John Thek, who’s been at the school for a quarter-century. “How come every year they have a [Far East] basketball or volleyball? Is that fair to cross country runners? Cross country and tennis, they take a back seat to everything. I have nothing against those other sports, but cross country runners don’t get the credit they deserve.”

Don’t expect the biennual Far East status to change in the near future, either, DODDS activities coordinator Don Hobbs said.

“I doubt if we’ll expand in the immediate future,” said Hobbs, adding that the primary concern is money, in an age when the budgets for DOD functions are being trimmed instead of bulked up.

“It can always be brought to the table” at DODDS’ Far East Activities Council meetings, held every October and March, “but when you crunch the numbers, something else has to go.”

So without a Far East prize to chase, how do runners stay motivated?

Well, there are always league championships to be won. Many athletes also use cross country to stay in shape for the winter sports — basketball and wrestling — and spring seasons of soccer, baseball, softball, and track and field.

Carroll, who plays basketball and led the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference in soccer goals last spring with 26, said cross country is “something I’ve learned to love to do, because I used it as something extra to get me to a higher level fitness-wise to play soccer.”

“Cross country motivates me. I get into a training routine and keep it throughout the year. If I don’t have that, if I’m not working hard, I’d never be at a level to play in the States. So yes, it keeps me in shape for sports here.”

Then, there’s the ultimate challenge, according to Thek and Pusan coach Gary Canner.

“Throughout the season, I tell the runners that they’re competing against themselves, to try to improve their times throughout the season,” Canner said. “The motivation has to come from inside them. It’s how much dedication and desire they have. This is the kind of sport you get out of it whatever you put into it.”

“It’s simply a matter of improvement,” Thek said.

“Far East is great, but Far East or not, you’re always running against that little voice in your head that says, ‘Stop. Slow down. I can’t do this.’ Cross country is the most honest sport there is. That’s what drives them every year, you have to learn to turn the volume down.”

Lyle certainly buys into the self-motivation aspect. “I try to get better times, go for individual records and challenge myself,” she said.

For Carroll, and others like her who will return next year, staying the course and continuing to challenge herself will keep her primed for a run at Far East next fall, perhaps following in Lyle’s footsteps and capturing an individual gold medal.

“I’m still learning. I’m relieved” to have another crack at Far East, Carroll said. “I’m going to be ready for my senior year.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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