Episcopal School of Acadiana's track and field team begins each practice a little differently than most. Assistant coach Laura Megann gathers the runners in a circle and one-by-one they say something they are grateful for.
"I said the weather," said senior runner Matthew Bush. "It's been gloomy and kind of rainy and a little bit cold for a while now."
Coach Laura Megann calls this the gratitude circle. Teaching her runners to embrace the little things in life is important to her. Even her shoes have two beads with the letters A and G on them, Attitude of Gratitude. She says it's her calling.
"Gratitude is being simply being being grateful for the little things that happen that are good in life," she said.
Many in that circle before practice were simply happy to just be there. A year ago the pandemic erased spring sports from the schedule and this summer as cross country practices began, each day felt like it could be the final run. That cliche "practice like it's your last" was embraced in a way many hadn't before. Because that reality felt real this time.
"Coach would say to us, often, we don't know what race or what even practices are last," said Bush. "I mean we were trying our hardest but it really for a while wasn't in our control whether or not we would practice, have meets, or even have a season. So, no definitely, every practice was treated as, like, a possible last practice and especially every meet."
While the lost spring season impacted kids across the country, ESA runners also saw the effects up close. Coach Megann often came to summer cross country practices in scrubs before heading to the COVID testing site she volunteered at much of the summer.
"When they called me, I immediately said yes, that I would help," she said.
Megann is a registered nurse and a member of the Medical Reserve, a network of volunteer groups across the country trained to give care during a natural disaster, or, in this case, a pandemic. She spent a few days each week at a test site outside the Limb and Salvage Club. Eventually senior runner Aline Malek started working the site too.
"Why am I putting my mask on, why do I have to wipe down the table every time, why can't I just, when practice is over, why can't I leave? Why do I have to do all these extra steps? And when I went with her, I just appreciated all those little steps more," Malek said.
Megann says she remembers the feeling of fear and desperation from many she saw, recalling one group of people who'd driven from Morgan City just to be tested. But Aline remembers it differently. She takes away the brighter moments.
"One of the nurse told whoever she was on the phone with like, 'Oh, you're negative, you're good,' and it was just like an exciting moment we were all like cheering about it, and it was such a little thing in hindsight but it was so exciting," she remembered.
In a dark moment Aline remembers the good moments. She's grateful for the little things.
"Life has a whole lot of good things, if we don't focus on those things and just focus on what's bad, what's terrible, what's difficult, what's challenging it becomes a hard life," said Megann.
Armed with a newfound perspective on life, Malek broke the school record, finishing second at the state cross country meet.
"There's a saying that I heard from one of the cross country seniors who's graduated now, but she used to say winners focus on winning and losers focus on winners, and I really took that to heart this year," said Malek.
The ESA girls team won its fifth title in six years. This winter the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named her the Louisiana girls coach of the year.
Now in track season, ESA eyes its third consecutive district title. A year after spring athletes lost their chance to compete, just competing means more than ever.
"When you focus on the good things, a beautiful campus to come to, beautiful weather, a nice sunny day, a walk with a friend...it's the little things in life. If you focus on those things on a daily basis, life is so much easier," said Megann. "You just have this peace from embracing all those things that are good in your life, rather than the hard."
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