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Cross Country tales – the garland

HighlightsCross Country tales – the garland

Photo: Oscar Quiroz, 2023 Cross Country Champion

by Chilor X

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 26, 2024

There have been many stories about our historic Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic over the years. Many great champions have become legends and their words still ring in the minds and hearts of Belizean patriots and lovers of the sport. “Vamos, paisa!” (Anthony Hutchinson), “Ketch di bull fi mi!” (Alfred Parks), and “Win da win!” (Geovanni Choto), are only a few memorable quotes from Cross Country champions, and there are many more words and stories from riders and fans alike, some documented and others that just keep simmering until they surface under some special circumstances to grab the attention and the focus of those of us to whom the “Country” is a sacred tradition. We can dig up some of those old stories about cyclists too nervous to sleep the night before Cross Country, or being unable to hold down any food in those jittery early morning hours as the time for the race approaches. People are different, and some are not bothered; but others go through a lot of emotional torment and stress in anticipation of the physical challenge approaching.

Here’s a little Cross Country tid-bit. It’s about the resilient and innovative spirit of our pioneer ancestors and ancestresses, in this case an ancestress, and is about the fabled garland, that for generations every Cross Country champion has had the pleasure and honor of wearing, and later placing on the grave of the very first Holy Saturday Cross Country Champion, Elston Kerr.

On that stretch of Cemetery Road not far from where the Lyon’s Bakery used to be, resided a lady who took great care and pride in her garden. Miss Lillian, according to the story we heard, had some beautiful flowers and roses which she tended daily, just because she loved plants and loved her garden.

We don’t have all the facts, and we won’t pretend and tell a lie here. We can only “give ahn how we get ahn,” in hopes that some elder with inside knowledge can shed more light for all of us. There is not much we can find on the internet, so here’s a start to the search for “the whole truth” about the history of our Cross Country garland.

Was it the very first Cross Country race? I don’t know. Was it the first that took place in one day? Perhaps.

But there was one occasion when the word was out that the boys were coming back to town. And one rider was coming back triumphantly in front, way ahead of everybody else, coming in “solo” as fans would put it. And that was something to celebrate, a champion pretty much determined even before he reached the official finish line.

Excitement was in the air, as fans began gathering on the street side to see the soon to be crowned champion ride past them, down Cemetery Road on his way to glory at the finish line.

Aunt Lil had caught the Cross Country fever; and while it was long fashionable to spray some cooling water on a passing rider, or offer some refreshment or food to help sustain them on the journey through the villages along the way, coming home and nearing the finish line sparked something in Aunt Lil, according to how the story goes. And as the lone rider appeared cruising comfortably in the distance, there was Aunt Lil stepping into the street and holding in her hand a beautiful wreath made of flowers from her garden, which normally would be on the occasion of a funeral. But today was different. The lone rider couldn’t help but see, and he slowed down and briefly paused his pedaling, coming to a crawl, as he and the milling bystanders soon realized what Aunt Lil was about to do … and a cheer went up from the city fans as Aunt Lil placed the wreath, a garland of roses someone said, over his head and around the shoulders of the humble sportsman, who smiled his thanks, and rode on to Cross Country history.

It was a special moment, not to be forgotten by all who witnessed it; and so special to Belizean cycling fans, that Cross Country would never be Cross Country again without it, without the garland.

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