Laura Tam's knee throbbed and Brad Akins' heart ached.
The Region 3-AAA cross country meet Wednesday at Harlem High School was summed up by the suffering of seniors Tam and Akins.
Tam was vying for her fourth consecutive individual region championship, but that quest was derailed Monday when she pulled ligaments in her left knee.
Despite the injury, Tam competed Wednesday and finished the 5-kilometer course in 25:34, which placed seventh.
The Jefferson County girls repeated as region champions, behind the winning time of Claire Easterlin (23:22).
Only the top two teams and top six individuals qualify for the state cross country meet, which will be held Saturday at Carrollton High School.
''I was shocked Laura finished as high as she did," Harlem coach Maj. Thomas McFarland said. ''To think that she almost got in the medals, even with an injury, just shows you what kind of heart she has."
After the race, Tam collapsed on the track, yet shrugged off the pain and refused to feel sorry for herself.
''All I wanted was for God's will to be done," she said. ''My main thing was to just cross the finish line. I'm proud of myself because I did it. It's not whether you win a race or not that makes you the winner. It's whether you finish or quit."
Akins also knows about knee injuries. He returned this season to cross country after knee surgery.
After the boys' Region 3-AAA race was run, Akins was in agony, and it wasn't because of his knee.
''We finished second," an excited Harlem teammate told Akins, whose countenance displayed a different emotion - he was angry.
''Your senior year you always want to graduate with one region title under your belt," Akins said after the Bulldogs finished five points behind Academy of Richmond County's winning total of 29.
The Harlem boys qualified for state but were relegated to region runners-up for the third straight season.
''It's always good to say we went to state three years in a row, but it doesn't have the same ring as 'region champs' would," Akins said. ''Just like last year, we thought we had it and we lost. In the end it doesn't matter - the scores stand."
Harlem's runners all posted solid times: Lucas Frentzel (2nd, 18:42), Emery Frentzel (5th, 18:58), Chris Neal (6th, 19:09), Ruben Valentin (10th, 19:37), Akins (11th, 19:49), George Fagen (22nd, 21:56) and Thomas Jennings (28th, 23:34).
Still, Richmond secured the region title, thanks to placing three runners in the top six, including individual champion Havird Usry (18:29).
''They wanted first place pretty bad," McFarland said of his Harlem runners. ''We put a pretty good push on ARC. They just couldn't quite get there, but I'm real proud of them and proud of their performance."
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