"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Those are the words Nora Imperl, now a senior captain of the Concordia Wisconsin Cross Country program, remembers from a race her sophomore season. Imperl was running alongside one of her teammates who proclaimed that bible verse and helped her continue to run strong during the race.
The Bible verse is from the Philippians 4:13 and is one that senior captain Emanuel Huerta-Gutierrez said he repeats 10 times during each run to help him stay motivated during each run. Examples like that story from the 2015 season can be found all across the Concordia Wisconsin Cross Country team, whether it be at practice, during a team bonding activity or on meet days. The Falcons are a faith-centered team and it is one of the main reasons they are a close-knit group.
At the start of every practice, Concordia Wisconsin begins with a prayer from one of the team's runners. Not everyone has to lead the unit in prayer throughout the season, but most on the Falcons squad take turns in getting the practice going on the right footing.
"On a day-to-day basis we have a pre-warm-up with a team prayer before practice," said Huerta-Gutierrez. "We also have a team verse of the year and devotions on meet days."
The devotions on meet days are led by team captains, who this year are Imperl, Huerta-Gutierrez and senior Cassandra Sprotte. The leaders come up with a theme of the day that ties in with the mentality the Falcons are looking for heading into race day.
The Falcons captains take their roles very seriously and are always looking to make sure they tie in faith while leading their team. Each 2017 captain has learned from both head coach Russ De Lap and captains of the past and know what it takes to lead a faith-centered team into another grueling season.
"I think being a leader is always important to remember that you are modeling Christ," said Sprotte. "I personally have a silent approach to leadership and like to model what you need to do."
Certainly, the leaders also know that every runner on the team is going to have a different viewpoint when it comes to faith and they remember that when leading the team. Some athletes may not be comfortable leading team prayers or being as open about their faith as others are. Nothing is forced upon anyone with the Falcons and the leaders do a good job of making sure that happens.
Still, student-athletes tend to know that running for Concordia Wisconsin means you are going to be running for a team that incorporates faith in day-to-day activities. The mission of the University is to help students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the World. This is something not lost on the leaders, or anyone, on the Falcons cross country team. It is also something that helped draw many of these student-athletes to run for CUW.
"My high school coach ran here and thought it would be a good fit for me," Sprotte said. "Being able to run here has been a blessing and I remember the first day of practice and we started with a prayer and I knew this was the place for me."
"Personally, I had a background in religion and I like to run," stated Huerta-Gutierrez. "It is finding that balance where it is not just running and it is not just faith itself, but where they can be tied in together that really helped draw me here."
Those are some of the examples of how the Concordia Wisconsin Cross Country program implement faith into practices, meets and other team activities. Faith plays a big part for the Falcons and is something that helps the team stay as one throughout a season that can certainly have its ups and downs.
"I think faith brings our team a lot closer," Imperl said. "It takes a little while for everyone to get to know one another, but once we do we are a really connected team and we know we can go to our faith to help our teammates and ourselves."