But this story isn’t about Chris Solinsky. It’s about someone you’ve never heard of — someone who forever in my head will be a scraggly-haired high school student running for his life. His name was Dustin Fier.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in 7th grade, and my parents drove me in our minivan to watch my brother run in the Wisconsin state cross country meet. On the way there, I heard nothing but stories of the LEGENDARY Chris Solinsky — a senior in high school who had won the state title the past two years and was going for his last hoorah!
This guy was a god. He was a machine. He was a running phenom. I mean, there was a meet-and-greet set up for him after the race so he could give autographs and shake hands with people (and he was a senior in high school!). One of his nicknames was “the Rocket,” which was fitting because it was also his high school mascot. He couldn’t be beat, and everyone who showed up that day seemed to know it.
Everyone except one guy. A scraggly-haired kid named Dustin.
The race began like every other. Gun goes off. Hundreds of runners fly off the line like all of their moms just called them for dinner (and dessert would be eaten by your brothers if you didn’t hurry).
Cross country is an interesting sport as a spectator. During the races, there are only brief moments when you get to see the runners. You only get snippets of the big picture, and these snippets leave you alone with your thoughts to create stories about what is happening when the runners head back into un-viewable territory.
We walked to our first viewing location and waited for the runners to appear. When they did, it was no surprise to anyone whose face came around the corner first. It was the same story I had heard in the van all the way to the race — Chris Solinsky is unbeatable.
But something about this story was not the way I had pictured it. Right behind him (and I mean RIGHT behind him, basically stepping on his heels with every stride) was some scraggly-haired kid who looked like he must have found a shortcut. People started flipping through their programs to figure out who this vigilante runner was. Curious whispers started to spread through the crowd.
“Who is Dustin?….”
“He’s from Hudson…”
“Where is Hudson?….”
The two came and went in the blink of an eye, and I started to create a new narrative in my head, different from the one my parents had been telling all day. I started to envision new headlines to the story –
“No Fier — Dustin Defeats Solinsky…”
“Fier Wasn’t Scared of The Rocket…”
“Fier Kicks Solinsky…”
I was getting myself riled up at even the slightest possibility of an upset. We walked to the next viewing location, and my hands were sweating. I now had someone to cheer for — aside from my brother.
Coming into sight first — no surprise — Chris Solinsky. Everyone cheered as he came into and out of sight in a flash. As the cheers for Chris started to subside, one little kid started cheering louder than he ever had — me. Dustin Fier flew around the corner just seconds behind Solinsky. This was unbelievable. What heart! What guts!
I asked my parents where the next viewing location was.
“It’s at the finish line.”
We walked to the finish line and waited. I started asking questions about Dustin Fier (questions that no one knew the answer to).
“Who IS this kid?”
“Do you think he can win?”
“How was he able to keep up for so long?”
“What do you think his game-plan was?
But I think something else was happening as we waited at that finish line:
I was being inspired.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t a fan of Chris Solinsky. I was. I had heard all about his work ethic and how much time he had dedicated to being the best. How can you not love that?
But watching Dustin run made me feel like he had read the headline, “Chris Solinsky is the best” and then said, “I’m going to beat him.”
There was no logical reason he SHOULD beat him — no physical advantage, no secret sauce. If he were to tell other people about his plan, they would have laughed. I wasn’t laughing. I saw someone who wanted to prove everyone wrong. Someone who was determined, and didn’t care how painful it would be or about his exhaustion at the finish line. He had absolutely nothing to lose, and he was acting like it.
As the suspense built at the finish line, we waited patiently for a glimpse of the first runner. I was biting my fingernails and couldn’t stop thinking, “What if Dustin pulls it off?” But as quickly as I had concocted the story in my head, it was all shattered. Chris turned into the final stretch looking stronger than ever, and sprinted toward the finish line.
Dustin Fier didn’t beat Chris Solinsky that day. In fact, it wasn’t close at all in the end. He lost by 57 seconds as Solinsky went on to set a new state record. Chris finished strong and waited at the finish line for Dustin, his closest adversary, to painfully finish the race; they hugged each other, and everyone seemed to immediately forget about Dustin Fier.
I was disappointed, but at the end of the day, Chris was supposed to win; things actually turned out exactly as planned. No one expected Dustin to give him a “run” for his money (pun intended), and Dustin’s gutsy run earned him second place in the state, which is no small feat.
I think there is a reason I remember this day so vividly 14 years after it happened.
There is no shame in reaching for the highest goal — in pursuing your dream with reckless abandon, no matter how far-fetched it may seem. People tend to believe they CAN’T do something simply because they HAVEN’T done it yet, and nothing could be further from the truth. If this was the case, no one would accomplish anything at all.
Give yourself permission to succeed. Allow yourself the opportunity to go after your dreams, and stay on the heels of the thing you are chasing for as long as you possibly can.
People will laugh at you, ignore you, doubt you (or at the very least have to look you up in their programs) — but your resolve, your determination, your GUTS matter. To see the headlines that other people have already written, and then against all odds, try to ink your own — to change the narrative.
And after all of this, you still might not succeed. You might give everything you possibly have and still fall short, but I’d be willing to argue that it is better to fail in a pursuit that is meaningful than succeed in an effort that is pointless.
So Chris Solinsky retired yesterday after an extremely successful professional running career, and I meant it when I said I would never forget the day he blew the competition away. But I don’t remember it simply because he won the race (he’s won hundreds of races).
I remember that day for words like DREAMS and GUTS and DETERMINATION.
I remember it for being the first time I realized I could change headlines and write my own story.
I remember it as a day that inspired this 7th-grade kid to pursue life — to go all-in and to run with RECKLESS ABANDON because just like Dustin, we have nothing to lose, and it’s time we started acting like it.