Abe and Coach Hammann running at state Meet 1988
Abe Camberg was one of those athletes. You know the type. They show up to practice on the first day after taking the entire summer off. Even though you ran 100’s of miles over the summer and they didn’t run any, they stick with you stride for stride. When that tough 14 x 400’s workout rolls around they blow your doors off. That was Abe. He was naturally gifted as an athlete. I recall the winter of 1987 Abe came up to me after school in late January and asked me to time him in a 400. He wanted to see if he could break 50 seconds even though he hadn’t run much all winter. I obliged. When he passed the finish line I has stopped the watch at 49.8! What? Come on! He was almost superhuman. He was an All-State XC runner, All-State in track in the long jump, 300 meter hurdles, and high jump. He also anchored our 4×400 with a blistering 48.5. In college he became a decathlete. He was pole vaulting over 15′ within months of him picking up a pole.

Abe and I ran cross country together all four years of High School. He would always tease me during the summer by saying, “I’m not coming out this year. I’m going to play football.” (He would have been an All-State receiver) I would spend the summer calling him and begging him to come out. I knew he would be a key component to any chance of being competitive as a team. It never failed. He always showed up on the first day of practice.

Over those four years I grew closer to Abe, along with my other classmates that ran cross country. We spent many hours together both in season and after the season was over. Abe drove me nuts in some ways. His grades were always better, he was always faster, he just had the gifts I so badly wanted. However, Abe never flaunted them in my face. He was always VERY gracious to me and bent over backwards to make me feel good about myself. A rare trait for a teenager.

From a competitive standpoint Abe gave us the edge we needed. Though he came into the season out of shape, by the end of the season he would usually be in the 16:50 range for a 5k. He was a ferocious competitor! He would get all of the 7 varsity boys FOCUSed on the task at hand. Our Junior year there was only one team that beat us and we worked our way to a 2nd place trophy in the Oregon High School 3A Cross Country Championships. Our bond that year grew even closer, as it does when you work hard together to compete as individuals and as a team.

However, twenty six years later, the championship trophies pale in comparison to our friendship. The bonds were so strong they hardly diminished over that time period. We didn’t see each other often. However, when we did, it was as if we were back on the Scappoose Indian cross country team. Working together. Playing together. Competing together.

These bonds that we create in this unique sport called cross country literally last a lifetime. You see, two years ago my friend Abe passed away from cancer. I was so compelled by our friendship that I flew out days before his passing and spent the weekend with him and his family. We shared memories of fun times and rough times. Not once did we talk about our championship trophies or victories on the course. One week later I flew back and had the privilege to share my memories of Abe at his funeral.

I share this story with you to encourage you to FOCUS on the relationships you have established and are going to establish by participating in cross country. I promise you they will be more important than the championships and awards you might receive in this sport. Don’t waste time and energy bickering over silly things that just won’t matter. Twenty six years from now you will remember the friendships you had with the people on this team if you keep your FOCUS in the right place.