When Celeste (Susnis) Robinson returned to New Prairie last September, it was the first time the former Kankakee Valley distance running star was back on the grounds where she won four invitational titles since she was in high school.
"It was amazing to go back," said Robinson, whose daughter, Abigail, runs for the Kougars. "It's a unique course, challenging, but fun. It's one of those courses where you either remember Agony Hill or the gully. I remember the gully the most. My daughter ran at Culver in middle school. I told her, wait until high school and you get to run New Prairie. Everybody loves the course."
A three-time state champion and Indiana's first Kinney (now Foot Locker) national champion in 1988, Robinson will be among the cross country greats recognized Saturday between Class A and AA races during the 50th anniversary of the New Prairie Invitational.
"I didn't realize it was going on that long," she said. "It's neat to go back, because I work at Kouts (as a guidance director) and I can share my memories of racing there with them, too. It'll be fun. I'm excited."
The who's who list of past stars in attendance will include Carey Pinkowski (Hammond), Jordan Chester (Boone Grove), Anna Weber (Michigan City), Kevin Higdon (Michigan City Elston), Anna Rohrer (Mishawaka), Waverly Neer (Culver Academies) and James Martin (Carroll).
It's no surprise running remains a passion in all their lives.
Pinkowski, the 1973-74 state champion, is the director of the Chicago Marathon. Weber competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials for the marathon and is training for a run at the 2020 team. Chester, one of only three four-time New Prairie champions, is prepping for the Detroit Marathon on the heels of winning the Bayshore Marathon.
"New Prairie was really like the home course for us at Michigan City," Weber said. "We ran pre-sectional, the invite, sectionals, regionals and semistate there. I've run from Oregon to Boston and I think it's one of the best cross country courses in the entire nation. There's something about it. It just feels like fall, the leaves. It's so perfectly set up for a cross country meet. It will forever be one of my favorites."
Weber runs professionally and will be making the trip up from Indianapolis. She still has family in M.C.
"It was always the race where things started clicking for me," she said. "It's the place I broke 16 (minutes) in a 4K for the first time and the place I broke 15 in a 4K for the first time. It has a lot of meaning to me to be there."
While Chester won the race four times, she could never stay around for the awards ceremony due to a soccer match.
"We always played Wheeler that weekend, so I always jetted off," she said.
As irony would have it, Chester won't be able to stick around to help present awards this time either. She has to leave early to get to a college roommate's wedding.
"Even though I never got to stick around for the other races, it was always a great atmosphere," she said. "I always loved racing there. The course is great. It's a tough course, you had to run up Agony Hill, but for some reason, it was a course I would run well on. I might run a personal best. The fans were great. It was always the best competition there. It was hands down easily my favorite course to run on in high school."
Chester, a medical laboratory scientist in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will return for the first time since her freshman year at Grand Valley State, where she was a four-time All-American, six years ago.
"I was telling my roommate it's cool coming back to the meet because Anna and Celeste are runners I looked up to while I was in high school," she said. "I'm in some elite company. I get to meet some women who are pretty incredible. I was excited to race it when I was younger. I hope all the kids are excited to be a part of the race they put on for the 50th anniversary."