Mike McConnell has seen his share of rough paths.
As a cross country and track runner, it's par for the course.
The Riverside junior, though, just experienced the roughest paths he's ever seen. McConnell, along with a team of other volunteers, has spent time the past couple of weeks helping clean up efforts in Seneca following a devastating tornado that tore through the area late Easter night. The effort was put together by Samaritan's Purse, which helps in emergency relief situations.
The tornado destroyed homes, trees and basically anything in its path. McConnell said the sights he's encountered have been sobering, but he's also been uplifted by seeing people come together in a time of need.
"I have helped tarp roofs, clean fallen trees and demolish ruined drywall and insulation to prep the houses for contractors," he said. "(Saturday) we helped a very nice old lady clear a path through the trees to her pet's memorial area. When I heard the assignment, I immediately jumped on it. As a pet owner myself, I know how much the memories mean."
McConnell added the hard work did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
"We worked for six hours straight cutting up huge oak trees that had fallen across the pathway," he said. "The look on the lady's face afterwards made the whole day worth it. It was extremely hard work and very tiring, but the feeling of knowing you helped the person get a little reassurance or closure is so amazing."
McConnell is in his fifth year running at Riverside. He said that his favorites cross country races are at Disney in Orlando, Fla., and Starlight, which is held at Riverside High. He has earned a varsity letter all five years in both cross country and track, in the top four on the cross country team and ranked as the Warriors' No. 1 runner in the 800-meter race during the short-lived track season. He was also recently named head captain for the upcoming cross country season.
"We're getting ready for the upcoming season and using Coach (Eric Cummings') summer workout plan to get ready," McConnell said. "We missed making state last year, and our goal is to make it this year."
McConnell said each day that passes as a volunteer in the Seneca relief effort is a learning experience.
"(Saturday) was the fifth day of helping," he said. "I can't believe the damage to the houses. There are a ton of volunteers out there. A few days ago, we cut up a collapsed carport and pushed out the homeowner's car. She was so thankful. I keep going because I like helping others, and my parents have taught me to pay it forward. An added bonus is the manual labor is helping me get ready for cross country season and Coach Cummings' drills."
McConnell said that volunteer work caught his eye a few years ago. It was something he knew he wanted to do if ever given the chance.
"I have played sports all my life, and when I entered high school sports I really started to notice how much is done for athletes by volunteers whether it be parents clipping shoe tags or other athletes handing out waters," he said. "It really opened my eyes to how blessed I am in life. I realize how much is given to me by people who might not have as good of a life as me but still go out of their way and help others."
Cummings said that McConnell's leadership abilities and willingness to help others is evident on and off the course.
"Mike is a hardworking caring young man," Cummings said. "He was named captain of the captains just (last Saturday) morning during our virtual captain meeting. Mike doesn't do things for his own credit, he does things because it is the right thing to do. This comes from his parents and older brother. Mike is a great young man and represents our program, our school and our district in a positive way."
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* Photos provided