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COLUMN

Hess brothers run over, through obstacles

Family has endured trying year

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 2:53 am

In championship athletics, it's called “bringing home the hardware.”

You know: trophies, medals, rings, titanium screws. It's all hardware, right? It is to our family.

The Hess family has had plenty to celebrate the past few years. We've also had our challenges. Often times, we've found a way to celebrate our challenges. This past Saturday in Terre Haute at the IHSAA State Cross Country Finals was one of those days.

In a span of 24 hours Debra and I had one son (Brad) wheeled out of a St. Louis hospital with 10 titanium screws clutched in his hand and another son (Alex) walk off the podium with the state championship runner-up trophy. Both represented the finish line of amazing journeys, but hopefully, just the starting line of greater journeys.

Before we get to the “greater” part, let's take a small step back. It was at last year's state meet that Brad hobbled around the course while cheering on Alex's 17th-place finish at the state meet. The reason Brad was hobbling was because of a torn labrum in his left hip. Brad had raced to all-state finishes the previous two years (13th in 2009 and 3rd in 2010), but at this time was told his running career was over due to hip dysplasia.

The 2011 state meet was a bittersweet time for the Hess family. Alex was coming into his own, but Brad's career was over. But much has changed in the past 52 weeks. Brad found a doctor in St. Louis who could repair the congenital condition, and in April Alex found out he had the same condition. Brad has endured two major hip surgeries and is now jogging, while Alex has learned to accept his fate and how to deal with what seems like impending doom.

Simply put, it has been the hardest year of parenting Debra and I have experienced.

We remind ourselves that we have three healthy children and that there is a difference between hip dysplasia and cancer. But to be in a doctor's office holding a crying child in your arms is never easy. And we've held two this year.

While Brad has recovered from two major surgeries (January and May), Alex has done countless drills to strengthen and maintain the health of his hips. As Brad has begun jogging, Alex does exercises daily, hoping to lessen the chances of a torn labrum and perhaps the end of his competitive career.

As fate would have it, the only time this fall and winter that Brad could have his 10 titanium screws removed arthroscopically was on Friday. When the appointment was set in early September, we knew immediately that it was the day before the state meet. The doctor assured us Brad could attend the state meet, but that he wouldn't be able to move very quickly.

Brad didn't care, as long as he could be there.

In actuality, Brad was very slow on the course Saturday in Terre Haute. Debra and I had him stationed on the far south end, Debra was at the finish, and I was on the north end. Via cell phone we relayed Alex's progress.

Alex finished 19th to earn his second all-state honor and helped Carroll to a second-place finish in the team race. (Carroll was also second in 2008 when Brad was a sophomore.)

The race not only concluded a great cross country career for Alex, but an incredible run for the Hess boys. For the fourth straight year, there was an all-state finish among them. For the second time in four years, one of them helped Carroll to a second place finish. That's a lot of hardware, titanium screws notwithstanding. In fact, Brad had plenty of fun showing off the screws to his former Carroll teammates before the race.

Did it motivate them? He'd like to think so.

On Sunday, all this got me to thinking. How many sets of brothers in Indiana high school cross country history have been multiple all-state runners? In other words, how many families have had at least two sons make all-state at least two times each?

The answer is four, counting the Hess brothers.

In the 1960s there were the Vandreys of Valparaiso and the Birs of Lafayette Central Catholic and in the 1990s there were the Bizunehs of Pike and Ben Davis.

How do Debra and I put this all in perspective? I don't think we can. But we know that we are blessed to have great kids, who have great coaches (Zach Raber and Mike Barnes).

Regardless of the hardware involved.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Brett Hess atnssports@news-sentinel.com.