Yesterday I watched a girl run the best race of her life - and cry.

Both the girls and boys teams qualified at the District meet last week and lined up yesterday to compete against the best runners in the State of Washington at the State Cross Country Championship in Pasco, Washington. For me, it marked the end of an era. I had no children of my own racing for the first time in nearly a decade but, for a decade, we've made the trek west. We did it again yesterday.

The girls ran first, at 10:00 under a single patch of clear sky, the only one of the day. At the previous editions of the Championship, I sped from point to point to cheer on the team and, specifically, daughters. This year, I camped at the two mile mark, out past no-mans-land and cheered.

One girl suffered from a lingering cold but the team ran well, competed hard and took fourth place in the State. The race for placement was almost impossibly tight. A single point separated the second through fourth place finishes.

The boys team faired better, placing second overall with Chandler Teigen just missing the course 2B record. Given some serious competition, the record probably would have fallen. It will next year. All boys ran well, confident and aggressive and proud. And they deserved their place on the podium.

But the lasting memory that I carry away isn't the girls or boys on the podium, the freshmen running so well, or Chandler running away from the field.

It was of a single girl, a team captain, a senior, holding onto her dad and in tears, not from disappointment - at that point they didn't know the scores - but because it was over. A team that she has been a part of for four years, the relationship with a coach that she admires, the memories of the girls she competed against resolved into a single moment - and was over.

Sometimes the kids don't realize how special their teammates and their competition is. But some, a few, they indeed realize that an important marker just passed, one that can never be recalled except in memories.

I coached this young lady five years ago and the images from that time still make me smile. At least one element of her will eventually make it into a book of mine - one of my favorite memories of coaching, a little waif of a girl with steady, wise eyes and a question.

Last year, I held my daughter while she cried, and I had no words other than 'I love you' and 'I am so proud of you.' I said the same things to another daughter on her final high school race, though it took her two years to understand fully.

So yesterday, I watched athletes run with beauty and grace, with strength and heart, flying towards that finish line. For one moment, I saw a scene of beauty, family, friends, teammates, bound up in one hug and some tears.