By Kevin Thompson
Pay attention when you see a tall, slender high school senior running the streets and alleys of Garden City, no matter what time of year.
Odds are it's Alex Miller, who capped a four-year cross country career with the Buffaloes by finishing second at the state meet at Rim Rock Farm in Lawrence, leading her team to a runner-up spot.
It's due to her humility, though, that neither of those finishes is the highlight of Miller's season.
Instead, it was the excitement of the moment when the girls' team, which won the regional, found out the boys had also qualified, also by winning the regional title.
Etched permanently in Miller's memory, it's just another example of what makes cross country so special to her. Everyone is family, and everyone in this family supports everyone else.
"That's what we preach about, almost every day," she said. "It's a cross country family. You run, and you go through so much pain together, so much together. It's a bond you want to share."
That's what makes the Buffaloes a strong family, she added. Upperclassmen work with the younger runners because that's just the way it is.
"We all love to interact with each other. That's what's Buffalo cross country," Miller said. "Just because it's seniors and freshmen doesn't mean anything."
People might say runners are crazy, she said.
"Some people say running is other sports' punishment. For us, it's what we love to do," she said.
It takes that special person or athlete to realize the passion that gets in a runner's blood, and running is definitely in Miller's blood. She has run varsity meets since the second meet of her freshman year. Since then, she has met the challenges of cross country running, culminating in her senior season.
Miller won every 4,000-meter race she ran this season except for state, where she ran 15:08, one of her fastest times of the year.
It also was her second straight runner-up after she ran a 15:10.20 in 2012. She finished 14th in 2011 (15:47.50).
The senior often refers to herself in the plural "we," referencing her teammates. They are all in this together, supporting each other.
"I say 'we' because we are the Buffaloes," she said.
That was apparent at regionals when they found out the boys had not only unexpectedly qualified for state but won the title.
The girls hugged the coaches, they were so happy, she said. Then they jumped on the celebration pile.
"We were just so excited; it was just insane, so overwhelming," she remembers. "Thinking about it still gives me chills. It was so fun."
Credit the coaching staff of Krista Linenberger and Derek Algrim for the Buffs' success, Miller said. Both are runners and know what it's all about. They share the same passion as the team.
"They put so much care into us. They put so much time into us," she said. "That's what makes us all so much a family. It's all to them that this program is building up."
It's hard for most people to comprehend the mind and spirit of a runner, but Miller said that what makes them a special breed.
"You could say I love to run. We all do," Miller said. "It's a passion that we have and it's dear to our hearts."
There are days, she added, when running seems like a chore, but after it's done it feels good.
"After you do it, you feel so much better and accomplished," she said.
It's also a time to exercise the mind as well as the body, and Miller does plenty of both.
While she runs, Miller said she has something akin to a radio playing her favorite songs running through her head. Then she thinks about the season. Then she thinks about the upcoming season, the future, etc.
"It takes a runner to understand that," she said. "But running can heal anything. It's the best therapy."
And it's something she can do the rest of her life, she added
Miller said she would like to continue to run at the college level, but those plans she is holding close for the moment.
She said she and her teammates have left an imprint on the program, and she and her teammates have discussed the "legacy" they hope they have left for future runners.
"We want to leave our desire and dedication," she said. "We don't want to just leave the program. We want to leave behind the work ethic of wanting that state title, to want to keep getting better."
Most memorable moment of the 2013 season: When we found out at regionals that both the boys' and girls' teams took first and were all going to state.
Favorite athlete: Zola Budd.
Favorite food: Macaroni and cheese.
Favorite class in school: College English.
Person I most admire: Mrs. Meng, GCHS counselor.
If I could meet one person, it would be: Mary Cain.
Favorite pastimes: Run (of course), relax, hang out with friends and family, read.
College I plan to attend: Kansas State University.
Area of intended study at college: Interior architecture.