No giving up in Southfield's Cross

June 1, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Latipha Cross was desperate for a boost last Friday, or her high school track career was sure to end a week before what could be its crowning moment.

The Southfield senior was preparing for her favorite race at the Oakland County Championships. The fastest 400 runner in MHSAA Finals history, Cross had finished second at her Regional the week before, after side effects of her lymphoma had “snuck up” again and caused her to throw up.

She'd stood against tipping points her entire life. But now, if she didn't win the county title, she was ready to give up.

“At first I was doubting myself. ‘I can’t do this. I can’t go to states.’ So I gave it one more try,” Cross said. “If I would’ve lost there, I would’ve scratched out for states. Then I beat her, and I felt good afterward. I said I know I can do this. I’ll work harder, stay up. Every since County, I’ve felt like I got an extra burst of energy from somewhere. I don’t know where.”

Cross ran her fastest 400 that day, in a meet-record 55.98 seconds. Just like that, she’s again the runner to chase at Saturday’s Final at East Kentwood.

But that comeback success is just the latest slice of the Bluejays senior's inspiring story.

Cross twice has battled back from cancer – she also defeated melanoma as a junior, despite having it on the day she set her all-MHSAA Finals record. And that was after two months as a sophomore when she didn’t know where she’d be sleeping at night.

She continuously has bounced back – and traveled far to reach her final high school meet before joining Eastern Michigan University's program this fall.

No hurdles too high

Cross has no problem talking about what she’s had to survive in her young life.

But few at her school know of the hurdles she’s jumped just to make it this far.

When she tells people, they say her life is like a movie.

If it was, the opening scene might be the night she slept on the slide at a local park.

Cross lived with her biological parents only during the first months of life, and has since fallen out of touch with them. Later, she was adopted by another family, and then lived with a biological aunt for a short time.

But by her sophomore year of high school, Cross’ living situation was in full upheaval. She stayed with friends from night to night and then on the streets for a bit before eventually ending up at that park.

The bouncing around continued until last fall, when teammate and “little sister” Shauntai Graham brought Cross home.

“I never had a real home until my sister said you’re coming to live with me,” Cross said.

Safe place

Cross believes her winning burst at the Oakland County meet came from her sister Ajanee. Just a few days earlier, May 20, was the anniversary of her death 11 years ago.

“During the 200, everybody in the crowd knew something was different,” Cross said. “I was coming around (the turn) in fourth place, and then all of a sudden, I don’t know what happened. There was a whole 100 left, but I came off the curve and I was done.” 

That's the kind of exciting finish she's become know for the last two springs.

Basketball was her first love. But she’s always been fast. Cross started running track when she was 11.

Later, she stopped and focused on hoops instead. But her future began to take shape again two falls ago when she showed up at Southfield, her third high school.

In part thanks to the support of former coach Calvin Johnson (now at Southfield-Lathrup), Cross found her way back to the track – and soon after, into the MHSAA record book.

“When I’m on a track, nobody can hurt me,” Cross said. “They can’t catch me.”

Cross went from unknown to champion in just a few months, breaking that 5-year-old all-MHSAA Finals record last spring by running the 400 in 54.29 seconds.

“A lot of it, I think, is her heart,” said Southfield coach Karla Crum, who took over for Johnson this spring. “She gives it her all every time she goes out on the track.”

And her all is something special, considering what else she had to overcome to achieve that milestone.  

Skin deep at first, then deeper

Cross’ melanoma, a form of skin cancer, was diagnosed in August of 2010. She fought it with medicine throughout her junior year and was still working against it when she set the record last spring.

Finally, in July, her doctor told her the melanoma was gone.

Fresh from that accomplishment and her future starting to look bright, Cross trained in the fall for indoor track season. She remembers feeling a pain in her stomach in late September or early October, but just ignored it until she couldn’t – because she collapsed.

This time, her doctor said it was lymphoma, another form of cancer which affects the lymph nodes.

There’d be chemotherapy.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘What? With what I just got through, I don’t know how I’m going to do this.’ I’m going to give up,” Cross said. “But that’s where the family I live with now came in. They said you’ve got to do it. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, but I did.”

At school, Cross still didn’t say much. “You want to do stuff to help her out, but she’s really quiet. It’s hard to know what she needs,” athletic director Timothy Conley said. To him, Cross’ record is simply “amazing.”

He’s also is the Bluejays’ football coach, and hence spends his share of time in the school weight room. He found out about Cross’ cancer only after asking her why she hadn’t been in to train – and Cross responded that she hadn’t received a release from her doctor.

Cross’ final chemo treatment was in March. When she runs Saturday, she’ll do so with two tumors – one behind her right ear and another behind her stomach. Both are benign and can’t harm her at this point. She hopes to have both removed this summer before she heads to college.

‘Competitive person, competitive mind’

Cross is a team captain this season, and has done all she could despite all she’s had to deal with physically over the last two years.

“She’s more serious than a lot of students,” Crum said. “She’s not silly. She more serious, more mature. I think that has a lot to do with the way she is.”

Cross eased back into running this spring, coming off her latest round of treatments. Her 400 times slowly fell back into fast, and Crum thinks Cross will break the record again this weekend.

She’s been able to focus on that as stability has come to the rest of her life. She’s become a part of the Graham family, and currently is living with Shauntai's older sister Staneisha, who is 23. Cross' grades are up, and she’s excited to get to Ypsilanti in the fall.

Cross plans to study social work at EMU, with a focus on working with children. That wouldn’t have been lost if she’d quit two weeks ago – her future college coaches said they’d still grant her scholarship because of how much they believe in her potential.

And Cross believes in it too. She plans to break 54 seconds Saturday – and leave one more lasting mark on her inspiring legacy.

“I’m ecstatic. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Now I’m here,” Cross said. “The way I look at it, I’ve gotta show everybody that I’m still here.

“I’ve been looking forward to it all season, to get to show people that I’ve been down and out, but that doesn’t matter. I’m still here.”

Cross is a recipient of one of this week's Second Half High 5s. Click to read more about her inspirations and career aspirations.

PHOTO: Southfield senior Latipha Cross set the all-Finals record in the 400 meters in 2011, and will look to break it again Saturday at East Kentwood.

Multi-Sprint Champ Racing to Finish Huron Career Ahead of the Rest Again

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

May 25, 2023

NEW BOSTON – If there was one thing Elizabeth Anderson took pride in elementary school, it was simply showing that she could outrun everyone in sight. 

Greater DetroitIn fact, Anderson has an explanation for all the success she had in those playground races.

“Dominance when you are in elementary school,” Anderson quipped. “I don’t think I ever had a nickname. I just think everyone knew I was fast.”

Years later, pretty much everyone who follows track & field in the state of Michigan can attest to that. 

A senior for New Boston Huron, Anderson has been faster than most other competitors in the state during her three-year high school career (with her freshman season in 2020 canceled due to COVID-19). 

Last year, Anderson won titles at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in the 200-meter (25.07) and 400-meter (56.28) dashes, and was runner-up in the 100-meter dash (12.23). 

Often, top sprinters focus on one or two of those three races. But Anderson is certainly a different breed of sprinter because she does all three.

In fact, she holds school records in all three of those events, and if all that weren’t enough, Anderson is a part of all three sprint relay teams. 

“It is hard to give her events off,” said New Boston Huron head girls track coach Danielle Lobato.

Despite the different styles the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes present, Anderson said there usually isn’t much adjusting when she goes from one of those races to another.

Anderson, middle, outpaces the field to also win the 200.The strategy is simply, “Let’s beat the other girls to the finish line.”

“I don’t really go into each race changing up how I would run,” she said. 

While enjoying and succeeding in all three races, Anderson said she actually does have a favorite among them.

“I would say the 400 is probably my favorite,” she said. “Even though it hurts, it’s satisfying to see how much you can get your time down in the 400 compared to any other race.”

Anderson said she started running track in sixth grade, but really got serious about it during the summer after her sophomore season, when she was invited to run for a local club. 

Eventually, that led to her competing over the winter in indoor events.

She lived and breathed track so much that last fall, she decided to not run cross country so she could focus on a weightlifting regimen aimed at developing more leg strength.

“Once I started doing summer track, I realized I wanted to be doing this all the time,” she said. 

Lobato said oftentimes in practice, Anderson is a de facto coach, given there is no better person she can think of for the younger runners on the team to learn from.

“I can’t always demonstrate these things I’m trying to teach,” she said. “You get to see it in real life (from Anderson), not in a YouTube video.”

After winning the 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes at her Regional meet last week, Anderson has her sights set on achieving the same trifecta of titles at next Saturday’s Finals in Grand Rapids. 

Anderson has signed to run track at Michigan State, but has been plenty motivated to keep producing this spring in her final high school season.

“I’m really looking to defend my titles,” she said. “That is what is really motivating me to keep going. I want to keep in shape for the college season. I don’t want to lose any of the progress I have made. Ultimately, I just love running track.”

And since elementary school, Anderson has loved — and succeeded in — outrunning everyone else to the finish line. 

“We knew we were getting something special,” Lobato said of when Anderson arrived in high school. “But you never expect this. All that she has accomplished is amazing.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) New Boston Huron's Elizabeth Anderson clears the finish line during last season's LPD2 400 race. (Middle) Anderson, middle, outpaces the field to also win the 200. (Click for more from