When I was in elementary school I played ice hockey. I’d like to think I was all right, but it could be that I am remembering it as I wish it was. I wasn’t the fastest or the most accurate, and I definitely wasn’t the strongest, but I had something more. I was invigorated by it. The speed and intensity of even elementary school hockey is still memorable to this day.

But team sports aren’t for everyone. Some kids aren’t built for them, or don’t like rules and yard lines. There is downtime involved, and sometimes you could be benched for a game you really wanted to be a part of.

That’s why every student should try cross country.

In cross country, every athlete gets to run. Regardless of speed or endurance, everyone at least gets to race. Even if your only competition is beating your PR — that’s cross country language for “personal record” — this is still something to run for.

It’s also a very simple sport. Line up at the start, wait for runner’s mark, and race to the finish, usually involving a 5 km distance in high school. All of this makes cross country a very easy sport to pick up and improve in. All an athlete has to work on is endurance and speed, eating well and attending practice.

I don’t want to imply it’s easy, because it isn’t. On recovery days, you will still be running 2 to 4 miles (at a slower pace) to recover from harder workouts. On hard days, practice could consist of 800-meter repeat runs, hill climbing, or course-specific work. Still, every sport comes with difficulties and, if a runner works hard, improvement will happen.

I started running in my freshman year. I wasn’t fast. I walked a lot, and I felt embarrassed at how much better everyone was compared to me.

I’m a senior this year. I’m faster, I haven’t walked in a long time and, although I may not be the fastest, I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in my four years of cross country. I would never trade it for any sport.

That isn’t just my unique story. Every runner has his or her own, and a lot of their stories are like mine: Student athletes who may not be the best, but who are proud they decided to join the team.

Ries Parnell is a senior at West Valley High School.