It started as something of a whim.
Hannah Hobaugh was making her way through freshman orientation at Santa Rosa High this summer when she came across coach Doug Courtemarche manning the cross country table. He was trying to encourage incoming ninth-graders to sign up with the team. Apparently Courtemarche is part coach, part salesman.
Something in that conversation gave spark to the idea that Hobaugh should go out for the team.
Up to that point, Hobaugh was not an avid runner. She’d dabbled in soccer and was a committed thespian. But running?
“I just said to myself, ‘I love running,’” she said.
But this would be a first for the Panthers. Hobaugh was born with Down syndrome and in their decades at the helm, neither Courtemarche nor co-coach Carrie Joseph can remember a Panther squad ever having a runner with Down syndrome on the team.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Joseph said. “But for us, it’s about exploring a new sport and pushing yourself so that running and exercise is part of what she feels she can do.”
And she can.
In the first two meets of the season, Hobaugh finished races on modified courses. At the Rancho Cotate Invitational on Sept. 8, Hobaugh’s route was limited to the track so she was able to run it solo, without her mom Diane as a guide.
Diane Hobaugh has become somewhat of an honorary Panther this season. During the day, Hannah has an aide who attends class with her, but extracurriculars are a different story. So when Hannah signed on, she essentially signed her mom on, too.
“I said, ‘Well, Doug, that means you get two of us,’” Diane Hobaugh said of the day Hannah joined the team.
If the workout is on the track, Diane watches from afar. But if the Panthers are running the trails at Spring Lake, like they did Monday afternoon, Diane laces up her shoes and runs too. After all, the Santa Rosa squad is so big that Courtemarche and Joseph have to climb aboard mountain bikes to keep an eye on sometimes three different pace groups.
During practice in the searing 98-degree heat Monday afternoon, Hobaugh ran a modified workout.
She ran some, she walked some. When she was coming into the finish, she had tied her ponytail up into a bun to keep her neck cool.
After a break in the shade, she made her way down where a group of faster runners were finishing their workout.
“I made really, really nice friends,” she said before Monday’s workout.
“Everyone is so nice. They supported me through all my races.”
As a bonding event, the girls squad had a team sleepover which apparently was a blast, though few details were shared. Such are the rules of sleepovers.
“The whole team is really fun,” Hobaugh said.
But every minute of cross country isn’t fun. In fact, many days it’s difficult.
“In the beginning, I thought it was really hard,” Hobaugh said.
“All I thought was, it’s a really far distance, but I try anyway,” she said. “I just take it one step at a time.”
Sometimes, on difficult days like Monday, she ends up walking for a bit.
“I walk and run at the same time,” she said.