Madeline Pitcock gently cradled the 10-week-old puppy, Gracie, and said to her father, “Gracie loves you the most. Walk past and I bet she looks up.”
Ron Pitcock walked around the kitchen countertop, past the puppy resting in Madeline’s arms. And as predicted, the puppy looked up from Madeline’s arm at her father with puppy-like enthusiasm.
Madeline wanted to give the puppy to her father, to see if the dog would look up at her when she passed. Gracie did.
A smile settled on her face, and she rewarded the puppy with returned affection and praise.
“This shows just how competitive she is,” Ron Pitcock said.
A puppy’s affection is a small victory, yet Madeline likes to win as many times as she can.
And she is winning a lot on the cross-country team at the 109’s Paschal High School, where many of her cross-country times are ranked among the best for freshmen in Texas.
Even from a young age, Madeline Pitcock has been competitive. Her mother, Jenny Pitcock, said she could always turn something into a race. Madeline did not consider herself a sore loser, but her mother said Madeline defiantly preferred winning to losing.
When Madeline was younger, she played in a youth soccer league. For the young age groups, 4- and 5- year- olds, the league didn’t keep score. There were no winner or losers, but Madeline always kept her own score.
After each game, she would come up to her mother and ask, “So who won?”
Jenny Pitcock would often say, “The winner does not matter, as long as you did your best.”
Madeline’s response: “So – who won?”
“Most girls wanted the snack at the end,” Jenny Pitcock said. “She wanted to win.”
Madeline was not the most graceful loser, her mother said — she never went so far as to kick or spit at the winners, but she did cry on occasion.
Even at the age of 15, her competitiveness is as strong as it was when she was 4 years old. She has become a more gracious loser, but the desire to win is still present.
“I just like to do my best,” she said.
Her father Ron Pitcock, a TCU honors college professor, competitively swam the 200 and 500 free in college. As a college athlete, he was very confident, or in his wife’s opinion, “cocky confident.”
Though cross-country was never within Ron Pitcock’s athletic background, he often helps Madeline prepare for a race.
He said he and Madeline usually talk about visualization and confidence before each race. They talk about “running the race before you run the race” to get mentally prepared. But when the race begins, behind those lines, all he can do is support his daughter.
“Once she starts the race, I’m of no good,” he said.
It’s Madeline’s race to run, he said, and though he would love to provide more help, all he can do is cheer from the sidelines and encourage her along the trail.
Madeline’s mother tends to take a less competitive approach to Madeline’s athletics. She said she was concerned about her effort instead of the medal around her neck.
Jenny said she was more academically competitive than athletically competitive, which is a partial reason why Madeline transferred to Paschal from Covenant Classical School.
Madeline attended Covenant Classical from kindergarten through 8th grade, attending classes, such as Bible, Latin and logistics, with a class of 12 other students.
Since the student population was so small, Madeline’s parents encouraged her to play all the sports offered at Covenant so each team could be filled. She played basketball, swimming, and ran cross- country, as well as play soccer since she was 4 years old.
When she ran at Covenant Classic, winning was not uncommon.
“Running was my best event,” she said, “so there was a lot of pressure to win all the time.”
Now that she runs at Paschal, she said she does not feel the same pressure to win. Winning at Covenant Classic was an expectation, but at Paschal, she said, she is not expected to always win.
Paschal High School has consistently had a competitive academic reputation, and in the past years, an increasingly competitive cross-country squad. In 2011, the boys’ cross-country team won the 5A District competition and in 2012, the girls’ team won district.
Through the season, Madeline began running the 5K in about 20 minutes. At her best 5K run, the Fort Worth Invitational, Madeline ran 19 minutes and 43 seconds and placed first. At the Birdville Flying Hawk Invitational, she ran 19 minutes and 29 seconds, but placed 27th in the 3-mile race.
Paschal cross-country coach, Kevin Gnadinger said Madeline has great potential in cross-country.
“For a freshman, that’s extraordinary,” Gnadinger said. “If she keeps building, by the time she’s a senior, she’ll be top in the state.”
To get to that point, it will take “a lot of miles” and a better finish. But according to her performance this season, along with her other freshman teammates, Gnadinger said the team could win district again and do even better at regionals.
“If I can get her sprinting and finishing, there’s no one who can beat her,” Gnadinger said.
Toward the end of the season, Madeline continued running in the 19-minute range, but as she advanced toward the Regional Championships, nervousness and mental blocks became huge hurdles to overcome.
Madeline said her nerves and lack of mental toughness cost her the faster times that she wanted. With most cross-country runners, mental toughness separates the good runners from the great runners.
After racers escape the cheers of teammates and parents, runners are alone with their thoughts. The need to alleviate physical pain is the biggest hurdle runners must face.
“It’s the mental blocks that make you want to slow down and stop,” Madeline said. “The fatigue is more mental than physical.”
During any race, runners are thinking about their breathing, their competitors, what to do after the race, where they are in the race, the pain in their side, the pain in their foot, the girl who just passed them on the course, the girl from the opposing team they have to beat and so many other things.
“While all this is happening, you’re still running,” Madeline said, which makes the sport so challenging for young runners.
There have been times when she has prayed for rained-out meets and imaginary injuries to end the meet. She said she remember thinking during a meet, “If I pretend to trip over a rock, I could quit.”
Madeline is a part of a trio of freshman runners who heavily contributed to Paschal’s first girls’ varsity district championship and first Regional appearance.
Madeline said she likes cross-country, but cannot decide now if she would consider cross-country in college.
“I feel that if I stick with it, I’ll grow to like it,” Madeline said.
Since the season has ended, Madeline has focused her competitiveness on her academics. Her AP Latin 4 and her dreaded math classes will feed her competitive spirit until track season.
When summer training begins, there will be tough runs ahead. There will be more shin splints, sore legs, mental roadblocks and hurdles and also another opportunity to beat the girl next to her.