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From the Bench: Already Arguably BHS's Greatest Athlete, Eli Bailey Stepping up Cross Country Game

By Jeff Toquinto on September 10, 2017 from Sports Blog via Connect-Bridgeport.com

Most sophomores in high school like 4-wheelers. Don’t count Bridgeport High School’s Eli Bailey - who I've personally declared as the greatest athlete in BHS history - among those in the group that has an all-out enjoyment for the off-road recreational vehicles.
 
You see, the 4-wheeler that Bailey doesn’t like is the one that you see coming up at the end of high school cross country events, almost always in the back of the pack. Eli Bailey got to hear and see that 4-wheeler a whole bunch last year.
 
“It just gets up close to me; it’s annoying. This year, it’s motivating me because I don’t want the 4-wheelers, or those rangers, getting behind me,” said Bailey.
 
After three races this year, the sound of the 4-wheeler doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to look up at a cross country meet and see Bailey. After an opening race on a muddy course in the Autumn Classic where Eli struggled and finished with roughly the same time as he had last year, something happened.
 
Something wonderful happened.
 
At the only Bridgeport home meet of the year three weeks ago, Bailey finished the Charles Pointe-Indian Run Invitational with a time of 36 minutes and 44 seconds. That was – get this – seven minutes and 46 seconds better than his time a year ago.
 
Bailey wasn’t done. At last week’s Saint Mary’s Medical Center Cross Country Festival at Cabell Midland High School, Bailey went from 45 minutes and 1 second last year to 32 minutes and 6 seconds. That’s not a typo.
 
What that means is heading into yesterday’s cross country meet at the Chic-fil-A Invitational in Mineral Wells, Eli Bailey had a new personal record thanks to shaving nearly 13 minutes (12 minutes and 55 seconds to be exact) off his time at the Saint Mary’s meets last year.
 
“As I was standing at the start line getting the girls ready for the varsity race that was about to start, the boys jayvee runners were passing right by us as they headed to the stadium to finish.  As always I was watching to see where our kids were,” said Griffith. “I saw Eli coming down the hill and noticed there wasn’t a 4-wheeler behind him like normal.  Eli hates that 4-wheeler behind him. 
 
“The girls and I were yelling and cheering him on and then I noticed another runner a good ways back coming down the hill.  I got so excited, I could hardly stand it.  Then I started counting,” Griffith continued. “There were five guys running behind Eli.  Then the dreaded four wheeler.  I didn’t know what his time was, but I knew he was doing something awesome.  I couldn’t have been more proud of him at that moment.”
 
That doesn’t mean Eli Bailey officially won the race; far from it.  He finished 238th out of 243 runners in the high school junior varsity event.
 
I’ll make the argument that it was the best showing in the state in cross country the entire season. And I’m going to make the bet that there’s more to come.
 
For those of you that don’t know Eli’s story, of which I’ve written about before and you can bet I’ll write about again, it’s one of perseverance and one of the absolute might of the human spirit. It’s worth repeating over and over because his story is about everything that’s right in this world.
 
It’s not that Eli Bailey would like to be in a position to shave those incredible amounts of time off of his races from one year to the next, but rather he’s in a position through no fault of his own or anyone else. Eli faces some disabilities as a result of three brain surgeries as a child that finally resulted in the complete removal of the left portion of his brain.
 
Even before he was born, Eli was seizing while in utero and after he was delivered. In fact, he was seizing every three hours after he was delivered. The problems led to a decision three months after birth that the entire left side of Eli’s brain would need to be disconnected.
 
The surgery to do that – and the accompanying medicine along with it – didn’t work. The seizures continued, and they continued for the next three years before the surgery was done to remove the left side of his brain. It would be an eight-hour procedure that resulted in Eli’s mother Beth Fox being told the seizures would never happen again, but that any level of normalcy in his life was far from a guarantee.
 
Yet here we are today. Bridgeport High School sophomore Elijah Bailey is a student, an athlete, a son (who has an absolutely wonderful mother by the way), an inspiration and owner of a million megawatt smile and personality who is always upbeat. Maybe, that’s what the doctors meant when he wouldn’t have normalcy – he was going to enjoy life more than most and motivate others in ways he couldn’t comprehend.
 
If that’s what they meant, then they were right.
 
Understand, too, that Eli’s rapid improvement from last year to this year isn’t simply the result of him getting older or his health issues subsiding. Eli Bailey faces the exact same obstacles he’s faced in the past, but what he’s done to deal with them is why he succeeds.
 
While many student-athletes in other sports enjoyed their summer lounging or didn’t put in the time throughout the offseason, Bailey was there. In fact, he was always there and was elsewhere as well.
 
“Eli is a fixture at our off-season conditioning workouts.  He loves the camaraderie and the physical activity.  He can’t wait to go to the weight room,” said Griffith. “He did run several 5K races over the summer and has been setting new personal records for himself at most races.”
 
Bailey said he knows he has to work hard to get better.
 
“I trained hard. I lifted weight and do planks and all of that,” said Bailey. “It’s a little hard, but did it anyway.
 
“I also ran in the (Greater Clarksburg) 10K and the (Derek) Hotsinpiller (Fallen Stars) 5K, the (Shinnston) Turkey Trot and a bunch of others,” said Bailey. “I like to run in those.”
 
While the times have changed, one thing hasn’t. Eli is still the most popular kid on the course. He’s still the one that the top athletes at BHS – the Mark Duez’s and the Jackson Jacobs’ – probably draw some strength from in the inner parts of their head.
 
Griffith said he’s a magnet for all that’s right in sports.
 
“The other kids love Eli and give him tons of support.  When you see what Eli is capable of doing, in spite of the obstacles, you can’t help but be impressed and inspired,” said Griffith. “Eli’s improvement is a dramatic example of what happens when you work hard for something … Most sports you can see incremental improvements, but in Cross Country hard work results in huge gains in performance and it is measured every race.  Eli exemplifies what can be accomplished through commitment, dedication and perseverance.”
 
Eli Bailey has created the new normal. He has himself to thank for it.
 
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Eli running with the dreaded 4-wheeler behind him, while he's shown breaking clear of the vehicle in the second photo. In the third photo, Bailey is shown crossing the finish line at the Blackberry Festival 5K and setting a personal record in the process. Coach Jon Griffith shown below. Top two and bottom photos by www.benqueenphotography.com.


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