By Tyler Waldrep
Sydney Steely has been a mainstay finisher in the cross-country top eight since she joined Hoover’s varsity team as an seventh-grader five years ago.
Her success likely wouldn’t have been possible without her mother, Sonia Steely, who runs two or three miles almost daily before heading to work as a CrossFit trainer.
At some point, Sydney Steely began joining her mother, and a love of running soon followed.
“We actually got back from the beach last weekend and we all ran seven miles to a restaurant to eat breakfast,” Steely said. “That’s just kind of how my family bonds.”
The run to the Cowgirl Kitchen for a Belgian waffle has become a tradition for the Steelys.
For Steely, navigating the twists and turns of the season has also become second nature, but her sixth and final year with Hoover High School will provide her with at least one new route to run.
On July 19, Steely and two of her teammates, John McCrackin and Caroline Franklin, will represent Hoover in the inaugural All-Star North-South cross-country race at Auburn University at Montgomery.
“Whoever does well at this meet is going to be like the first, so it definitely has a special meaning to it,” Steely said.
A Test of Training
In most North-South All-Star games, the selection is a tremendous honor, but Hoover’s cross-country runners view this as something more; for them it’s an opportunity.
“It will help me figure out where I am in my training and how to change my training or if my training is exactly where it should be,” Franklin said. “It’s kind of good, it’s going to be awesome to see where I am and I’m sure it’s going to affect how I continue training this summer.”
Franklin is excited for a chance to compete against, and alongside, some of the state’s best runners, but she isn’t putting on extra pressure to make a good showing. That’s not Hoover’s way. If you’re one of coach Devon Hind’s runners, all meets are of equal importance. Despite that philosophy, Hoover’s coach said this type of event might provide the atmosphere Franklin usually needs to do her best work.
“She usually steps up in championship-type events,” Hind said.
Franklin might not have the miles under her belt that the other two Bucs have, but Steely sees this untapped potential as a positive for her teammate.
“I’ve seen this in the past seniors, the ones that just graduated, knowing it’s that last year, it’s the last time you’re going to do it,” Steely said. “Somehow it makes everyone want to try so much harder and I think that’s what’s going to push her (Franklin) all the way to the end.”
Never Let Up
One runner who might not see a senior bump is McCrackin, but that’s because it might not be possible for him to work much harder than he already has.
“He did a half marathon right after cross-country state (championship), and then he kept training and he went straight into indoor training for track,” Franklin said. “While we were all taking our rest, he kept working.”
McCrackin said it didn’t seem like a big deal to him. He wasn’t even doing it to progress as a runner. For him the 13.1 miles was a fun way to kill some time during the break between cross-country and track.
The Hoover boys’ lone cross-country representative said his love of running stems from the results-based nature of the sport. He puts the time in and he sees the payoff.
“Basically it’s not about how big you are,” McCrackin said. “It’s about how much guts you have. If you’re willing to bleed more than the other person.”
Despite his intense dedication to the sport, McCrackin also manages to find time to make his teammates laugh and is regarded as the most sociable guy on the team.
“John is the type of guy that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can go up and talk to him or he’ll come talk to you,” Steely said. “So that’s really nice and I think that’s what his biggest role in this next season is going to be on our team.”
That sort of team first attitude carries over to McCrackin’s practices and is the reason both he and Steely have earned leadership positions on Hind’s team next year.
“They’re backing off their pace sometimes and they’re running back with some slower folks and they’re like, ‘Come on. You can do it,’ and they’re encouraging them that way.” Hind said.
Whenever things get difficult, Steely seems to know what her teams needs of her. Sometimes that’s lead- ing the girls in song, occasionally accompanied by goofy dancing, to relieve tension before a meet.
At other times, a few positive words gasped out during the almost daily 7 a.m. summer runs is more than enough.
“Sydney’s always the one that, even if it’s a hard workout and you can barely breathe, she’s like turning next to you and she’s like, ‘Come on, you can do it, one more step,’” Franklin said. “And just encouraging you even if she doesn’t have any breath to be talking.”
Steely said she would like to end her six-year Hoover career with a state championship, and she said the younger girls on the team have shown they have what it takes to make that goal a realistic one. On an individual note, she would like to finally break personal record times she set when she ran varsity as a middle schooler.
“A lot of girls will hit that peak and then they kind of fall out and stop running or they just run for fun. They don’t like to keep racing because they’re not hitting those times,” Steely said.
The frustration she’s felt during her chase for a new personal best is unnecessary fuel for a girl who couldn’t imagine slowing down anytime soon. Regardless of the result, Steely, like Franklin, said the All-Star race could jump-start her senior season because of where it falls on the calendar.
Even if that doesn’t prove to be true, Steely will enjoy the experience. She doesn’t need a trophy – or even a Belgian waffle – waiting for her at the finish line to find fulfilment competing in the sport she loves.
Steely said running varsity since seventh grade has been “a really cool experience that obviously not everyone gets to accomplish. So, it’s going to be tough saying this is the last year.”