Cayleigh Solano - Kearny Cross Country
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Fear can be a good thing in sports. The fear of failure, of disappointing your family, friends, and teammates can be a motivational tool for some athletes – athletes like Cayleigh Solano.

“A little bit of fear is a little healthy,” said Jim Cifelli, Solano’s cross-country coach at Kearny High School. “It’s more being afraid that you’re going to disappoint those around you. You’re disappointed that you let yourself down and your coach and family too; it’s a lot of pressure to bear.”

Cifelli said Solano bears the pressure of being a top runner well. She is the top runner on the cross-country team and an anchor of the school’s track and field team. She won the 1600-meters and 3200-meters in last year’s Hudson County Indoor Championships and finished second in the 800-meters.

“She has a great deal of self-motivation,” Cifelli said. “She has a desire to excel and a strong desire to please people around her and I think that’s a good thing. I expect her to run very well.”

Cifelli designs his practices to be competitive for his runners, something that Cifelli said has made Solano into the runner she is today. As a sophomore, she had older, better, more experienced runners to chase after. Now she is the one who is being chased. She and the other runners on the team feed off of each other.

“I’ve always felt that it’s good to be competitive in practice. It’s difficult for runners to push themselves when they are running alone,” Cifelli said. “Anybody who wants to be a good runner has got to be competitive and you can’t turn your competitiveness off in practice and then go and be competitive at a meet.”

Solano, a senior, had to make some adjustments to her running style last season. A runner she would chase after in practice graduated. She was suddenly alone with no one to chase after.

“I didn’t know how to pace myself for cross-country. It didn’t hit me until the first day of practice,” Solano said. “I felt all of the pressure.”

But Solano has made the adjustment well and feeds off of her teammates. Although runners receive individual times in cross-country, there is a team aspect to the sport.

“We’re always pushing each other,” Solano said. “They are the one’s chasing me and they’re making me better and I’m making them better.”

Solano uses that to keep her going during a race.

“I look at the girl ahead of me. I think ‘She’s just as tired as I am and she’s in just as much pain as I am, so what’s making her beating me?’ I look at the person behind me and think ‘I’m not going to let this person catch me, but I’m going to catch that person in front of me.’”

Cifelli said although Solano and her teammates feed off of each other well in practice, running in a race is different. The competition is much different at a meet than at practice.

“It’s easy to believe in yourself at practice, it’s another thing to stand at the starting line with some of the best girls in the country, that’s something else,” Solano said. “All I ask is for them to run the best they can.”

Solano likes the fact that Cifelli is honest with her. As a junior she had a time of 23 minutes and 30 seconds in the county championship. Cifelli said she was nervous, but knew she could have run better and told her so. Solano learned a lot from the experience.

“He doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Solano said. “He knows when you don’t run as hard as you can and you know that when you didn’t give it your all you let him down.”

Solano approaches the way she runs in her two sports differently.

“In cross-country you have to pay attention, you can get caught up looking at everything around you,” Solano said. “In track, you’re giving it your all for smaller portions. You have to pace yourself mentally and physically.”

For high school athletes like Solano, being a top athlete and a top student can be stressful.

“It’s a lot of pressure to bear,” Cifelli said. “In school, the athletes bear the pressure and for an athlete who cares and who wants to be an elite athlete, the pressure is only greater.”

But it is that desire to succeed that makes Solano the runner she is. Still, every athlete has his or her difficult days.

“Those days are tough,” Solano said. “You’re disappointed in yourself. The results weren’t what you wanted, but there’s not a single race where I don’t try my best.”

Going through difficult times helps develop perseverance, which helps develop character. This is one of the ways cross-country has made Solano grow and mature. She took a particularly difficult class and had to work extremely hard to earn an “A” for the course.

“I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t start running,” Solano said. “I won’t give up on stuff as easily now. I’ll keep going until I get what I want.”

Perseverance, gumption, and being proactive. Those are things that runners must learn to develop. These character traits will not only serve Solano well as a runner this season, but for the rest of her life.

“You can’t give up on anything, you have to go after what you want,” Solano said. “You can’t just sit back and think ‘It’ll come to me.”


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