Tim Ross stood in Hearnes Center Fieldhouse on Wednesday, the place he’s waited for his team to begin practice so many times before. A teammate walked up to the senior to show off the short yellow running shorts adorned with red chili peppers he was wearing.
“I couldn’t wear those, I have a reputation,” Ross said laughing.
For four seasons, Ross has indeed had the reputation of being the best on the Missouri cross country team. Like past seasons, he was the top runner for the Tigers in every race this season and earned All-Midwest Region honors after placing fifth in the Midwest Regional Meet on Nov. 11. As the lone runner from the team, he represented Missouri on a national level on Nov. 20 when he ran his last cross country race for the Tigers at the NCAA national meet, where he finished the 10K race at Terre Haute, Ind. in 32 minutes and 50 seconds and placed 126th.
“I tried not to think about it being the last race before the meet,” Ross said. “The saddest time was the 10 days leading up to it and knowing that it was over for the team, and it would be for me soon, too.”
As he drove back from nationals, the reality that his cross country career with the Tigers was over for good crept over him. Ross has only a track season standing between him and the end of his time at Missouri.
Next season won’t be easy for teammates like sophomore Garett Jeffries, the No. 2 runner for the Tigers, without Ross. Jeffries, along with freshman Dan Hedgecock, are two people Ross said he’s confident can lead the team with equal, if not more, success next year.
“Getting a huge compliment from him, the best runner ever to come through Missouri, gives us more confidence to lead,” Jeffries said. “We’re going to miss him a lot for sure next season.”
Although Ross will be gone, the mark he’s left on the program and his teammates will not be. Jeffries said whenever the younger runners got too silly or unfocused, Ross was there to assert control and boost confidence. Teammate Ben Wade knows next year won’t be the same without him.
“It’s going to be hard, anytime you lose a runner
it’s hard, but he’s affected this team enough to where we just have to follow the example he set,” Wade said.
Although many on the team admired him, Ross said he also admired others on the team. Seeing his teammates improve and accomplish personal best provided as much joy as his own success. Towards the end of the season, he was reminded of why he loves cross country so much while watching Wade get a personal best.
“Ben ran a 4-minute-and-10-second mile in practice one day and hadn’t done that all year,” Ross said. “Seeing stuff like that makes me sit back and go ‘wow,’ all the hard work has paid off.”
As his time winds down, sharing what he’s learned over the years has been important for Ross. Whether it’s sharing tips on technique or telling his teammates not to overdo it on workouts, he tried to be there as much as he could. For him, the secret to his success was simple.
“There’s no magic formula to being a good runner, you just have to work hard day in and day out. I hope I’ve showed the guys that.”
For now, Ross doesn’t dwell on any sadness he might have about leaving. Instead, he’s focused on track and getting to nationals in the 10K and breaking the 14-minute mark in the 5K, something that has been a lifelong dream. When he finally leaves, he said he’ll stay in touch with his teammates from a distance and perhaps even run with the team if he stays in Columbia. Either way, he regrets not having another year to race with the team he’s confident will go on to do great things.
“These guys want to succeed, and they will,” Ross said. “I only wish I could share it with them.”