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For Xie, finishing the state meet is all that counts

After failing to complete two section races, Xie is changing his focus for Saturday's state meet
By: Matt Long
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Benji Xie can’t wait for Saturday’s state cross country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno. Xie, a 16-year-old junior at Oak Ridge High, is looking forward to the race because he knows he’s done everything he can to prepare for it. He’s done all the training, so all he has to do is show up and run the race with one goal in mind … to finish. Sounds simple enough, but finishing this race will be a big accomplishment for Xie (pronounced Shay). For the second straight year, Xie failed to finish the Sac-Joaquin Section Championship race, this year collapsing about 100 feet from the finish line during the event held Nov. 14 at Willow Hills in Folsom. He didn’t collapse because of any medical problem. Despite the fact that his body shut itself down, the reasoning is all mental. Xie puts a lot of pressure on himself to the point where it’s too much for his body to handle. “At this year’s section meet, heading up the Oak Tree Hill with about a half-mile to go, I felt something wrong with my legs and by the time I got to the top of the hill I felt myself falling apart,” Xie said. “The last half-mile of the race was like a death march. Every step was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Xie said he became incredibility dizzy to the point where he had to look down at the ground or he’d fall over. He eventually slowed to a crawling pace. About 100 feet to the finish line he was bumped by another runner, lost his balance and collapsed. “The only thing going through my mind was ‘finish the race,’ Xie said. “Someone was holding me down and I kept saying let me finish, but the person told me I was done. I’m pretty sure it was EMT. My breathing was out of control and I could feel my heart beat through my whole body.” Xie realizes that he puts too much pressure on himself. “I expect a lot out of myself and I was trying to do something to help the team,” Xie said. “I was trying to do more than my part. I’ve just got to relax more.” The event was eerily similarly to what happened at the 2008 section championships. Last year when he didn’t finish, it cost a strong Oak Ridge team a trip to the state meet. This year, however, the team still ran well enough to qualify. “It was like déjà vu,” Oak Ridge coach Rob Fairley said. “It was a tough one. Everything is OK medically, but I think it’s just tough for Benji to relax. He disguised it very well, though, because before the race he seemed ready to go. Last year it was disastrous, but fortunately this year, everyone else ran well enough for us to advance.” Xie began feeling better by the middle of last week and finished with a couple of strong practices. He’s since met with Fairley and assistant coach John Mansoor to discuss the issue. “Benji tends to get worked up to the point where he starts thinking too much,” Fairley said. “We gave him suggestions on how to relax more. We told him to focus on what he can control and not worry about what the other runners are doing. He needs to run his race and be in as good of a rhythm and as relaxed as possible. We’re keeping things on the positive side.” Xie’s teammates have his back as well. “Benji’s one of the kind and we all love him,” senior Amjed Aboukhadijeh said. “You can’t replace Benji. He’s the heart of the team and everyone knows that. It was a small roadblock but he’s overcome it. He’ll be OK at the state meet.” If Xie got worked up for the section meet, what’s going to happen at an even bigger meet on Saturday? Xie is confident he will be fine. He’s going into the meet with a different attitude. “When I ran in the state meet as a freshman, my goal was to go out and do what I can and give it my best shot,” Xie said. “That’s what I’m going to do this year. I’m just going to run my race and not measure myself against what others are doing.” Xie’s goal is to finish the race in less than 16 minutes and he’s confident he will do it. His best time on the course is 16 minutes, 8 seconds. “Physically, I’m fit and I’m ready,” Xie said. “I’ve been training for this since June and I’ll be ready on Saturday.”