Salute to Seniors: Monica Hebner of Northern Highlands

Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We wanted to give everyone a chance to salute them one more time as well as invite those seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. We will be posting this series through July, we already have a number of submissions and if you would like to submit check out this article for how to do so.

What was your most memorable race?

My most memorable race was North 1 Group 3 Sectionals in Spring of 2017 in the 3200. It was my first big race of the season and I remember almost being in tears on the starting line because I was so nervous. The plan was to go out hard and try to break 11, and the race went just as planned. I remember hearing my coach Katie yelling "Girls keep going!!! You're going to fast". I ended up crossing the line in a 10:49 and turned around to see Isabel (my twin sister) coming in right behind me in a 10:51. Then behind her was our teammate who also broke 11 that race. All three of us broke 11 and we clinched the team sectional title. There was a giant group hug at the end and tons of happy tears. I ran out of the clerking area to meet my dad who was also in tears (sorry dad:)) because of the race. After the tears stopped, Paul Schwartz came up to me and told me "You may run faster races, better races, but this race will always be your favorite". And he was so right!

Who would you consider your biggest competition over your four years?

My biggest competition over these four years was definitely my twin sister. We do EVERY run together whether it be a recovery day, a long run, a tempo run, or a workout, she is always right next to me pushing me every step of the way. It has been the best thing to have her over these years because she is always making me try my hardest and do my best. Without her I would definitely not be the runner I am today.

What was your greatest accomplishment?

My greatest accomplishment was my senior year cross country season. Every race this past season was a dream for me.

I guess one of my greatest accomplishments was breaking the Darlington County Park Course Record at BMOC in XC. I knew my race plan and all I had to do was execute it. The weather was perfect and my training up until that point had been going great. I went out that race with my heart on my sleeve and gave it everything I had. I remember running blind and having no idea if I was on pace to break the record until the last turn and straight away behind the red barn when I heard my dad screaming to sprint. Coach Rodak was pumping the fans up saying I was about to break the record (thank you for that Coach Rodak) and I crossed the line in a 17:27 breaking the record. Writing about that race still gives me chills!

I guess another one was winning SMOC in XC my senior year too. That was another race where I had a race strategy, but didn't execute it until after the bowl. I had the WORST start of my life that race and came up the first hill in 30th. I remember seeing the disappointment in Coach Destaso and my dad's but instead of giving up on me they said "it's time to go". I got to the mile in 8th and knew I still had ground to make up. I finally got into position at the bowl and didn't look back. Shout out to Ray Sellero because I remember hearing him screaming in the woods that I had to keep going and I think I took off there. I finished in first and was in shock when it happened. I think I still am in shock.

If you could do it all over again what would you change about your running or field career in high school?

Honestly, I don't think I would change a thing about my highschool career. Every race, every workout, every setback taught me something that made me stronger and better as a runner. I would not have became the runner I am today without the challenges I've faced. I guess though if I had to pick, I would say I would have worn gloves at the XC state meet every year because I promise those are LIFE SAVERS!!!

What were the most difficult obstacles you had to overcome?

The most difficult obstacle I had to overcome was the 1600. I always said I am a cross country runner running track and anything under a 5k is to short for me. Until my senior season, I had the biggest mental block against the 1600. I would split faster 1600 splits in my 3200 and 5000 then in an open 1600. Finally this spring I put the mental part away and just ran a 1600 straight out and actually ran well. Sometimes you have to stop thinking and just run.

What will you miss the most?

I'm going to miss the state running community. Every person I encounter whether it be a fan or an official is genuinely so nice to me every time they talk to me. There is a family feeling in NJ running community and I hope it continues!

I will also miss my coaches and teammates. They have been the best support all these years!

What advice would you give to younger athletes?

Take down time between seasons especially if you are running all three seasons. I know that you may be all gungho to continue onto the next season, but remember the seasons are long and rest is good! Enjoy your down time so you can come back stronger than before! Also remember that if you get a bad start, it does not define your whole race! Pretend it didn't happen and just run!

What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?

My coaches changed my entire outlook on running. I originally ran xc and indoor track to stay in shape for lacrosse, but I fell in love with running  and my coaches had a lot to do with it. Coach Gilli, Coach Destaso and Coach Buono are three of the greatest men I have ever had the privilege to run under and meet in general. They truly love each one of their athletes like their own children. They will never be mad at you for an off race and will always be proud of you when you do your best. They care more about the individual runners than the points that they can score for them. There are no words I can use to truly describe how thankful I am for having the privilege to run under them. I will miss them SO MUCH! Also shout out to Katie for always recommending the best protein bars and being like another sister! Lastly shout out to Coach Viscardi for teaching me I can actually run a 1600.

What are your post-high school or college plans?

I will be continuing my academic and athletic career at Duke University! Go Blue Devils!

Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?

I would like to say thank you to my coaches, teammates, parents, Isabel, and brothers for all they do to support my running career! Without them I would not have been able to get through these four years! I'd like to thank my dad for him being race support the days of races and doing anything I need on race days from driving to find the perfect banana to being a shoulder to cry on after a bad race (trust me we all have these) to holding the cardboard heads of Isabel and I. Thanks Emily Spence for making those!  I'd also like to thank my coaches again for pushing me to be my best. I'd like to thank my mom and brothers for always supporting my running and never giving up on me. Shout out to my brother Tyler who went to every XC race this year, you're the best!! Without any of these people I wouldn't be where I am today!

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Enjoy every run and race like its your last! It goes SO quick! And never forget why you do this sport. Once it becomes not fun, it's not for you anymore.

Here is the State Meet of Champions cross country race that Monica won this past fall.