Friendship transcends rivalry for GJ's Eccher, Fruita's Bisbee
They’ve been running distance races against each other since they were freshmen, representing rival schools and taking turns, it seems, having the upper hand.
Grand Junction’s Greg Eccher and Fruita Monument’s Chuck Bisbee could really, really dislike each other at this point in their careers. They’re seniors, each about to make his third appearance at the Class 5A state cross-country meet. It’s the last chance to beat the other in a 5,000-meter race running on grass and dirt, up and down hills and kicking hard toward a finish line each wants to reach before the other and about 180 other competitors.
Instead, whoever finishes ahead of the other Saturday at the Norris-Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs will congratulate the other on being the better man that day, because that’s what good friends do.
The potential to be bitter rivals was circumvented years earlier, in the fourth grade, when Bisbee moved to Broadway Elementary. There, he met Eccher, found out the two had a lot in common, and they’ve been friends ever since.
Even Eccher’s decision as a freshman to go to Grand Junction High School instead of Fruita Monument couldn’t derail their friendship, which transcends rivalry.
Eventually, they found themselves running with the same crowd, literally, as cross-country and track athletes.
More accurately, they found themselves running away from the crowd. They tend to run with the lead pack in races, and then often separate themselves from that pack down the stretch. But gaining separation from each other is much more difficult. They know they can’t let each other take too big of a lead.
“Chuck’s always strong. He’s always there,” Eccher said. “I always know I have someone to compete against, push me. … He really brings out the best in me when I run.”
Bisbee offers the same assessment for the way Eccher affects his races.
“No matter what, we each kind of gun for each other, and it’s kept it really competitive,” Bisbee said. “I don’t think either of us would be as fast without the other.
“It’s a rivalry, but it’s pretty cool, actually.”
They hope to push each other to their best finishes ever at state. They’re used to winning or placing in the top few spots in cross-country races, such as last week’s regional, where Bisbee finished second, eight seconds ahead of third-place Eccher. But state has not been kind to either.
Eccher’s previous two trips to state yielded 45th place and a time of 17 minutes, 10.69 seconds as a sophomore and 71st place (17:57.3) place last fall.
Bisbee finished 48th (17:14.84) as a sophomore, and last year was a disaster as he went out too fast in the first 400 meters, and abdominal cramps hit him in the second mile, where runners encounter the course’s large hill, perhaps the most notorious and defining element of the Norris-Penrose course. Bisbee said all that was on his mind at that point was gutting out the pain and finishing the race, which he did, but he was the last runner to cross the finish line.
“I learned a lot from that,” he said.
Primarily, Bisbee knows he can’t let anyone else dictate his pace.
“I have to stay within myself and run my own race,” he said. “Go in, run relaxed and hopefully run fast.”
Eccher will do the same. His only goal is to run hard, cross the finish line with nothing left in the tank, and whatever place that yields will be good enough.
Bisbee said his goal is to finish in the top 25, and if he does it, he expects Eccher will, too.
“I think that’s a reasonable place to be,” Bisbee said. “I want both of us to compete well, and I think both of us will compete well.”