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.

Gaylord Record-Setter Embracing Challenges As Championship Season Approaches

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 3, 2024

Katie Berkshire has her eyes on the prize today.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd she’ll have her eyes on another prize Saturday. After that she’ll move on to more conquests yet this track season.

That pattern will be repeated for the next two years on the track and along the cross country course.

Berkshire, a sophomore at Gaylord High School, is already a long-distance record-holder and a regular feature at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. Today, she is throwing out the welcome mat to her opponents as Gaylord hosts its annual Blue Devil Classic.

She is welcoming this weekend’s competition because she knows fast races help her get better every day. Winning, although it happens often, is not her top priority. Putting in the work and getting better is what matters most, according to Gaylord girls track & field and cross country coach Lindsey Yates.

“She’s more than just a fast runner,” acknowledged Yates. “She knows she has to put the work in to get good results, and she’s always wanting more.

“The proof is in the pudding in what she does,” Yates continued. “She is a special — very special — athlete and young woman.”

Berkshire started this season by breaking the school record in the 3,200 at Gaylord’s first meet. She’s hoping to break the school’s 1,600 record yet this spring. And, she’s hoping to add to her collection of Regional and conference titles this month.

Higher finishes at the Division 2 Final on June 2 also are on the mind of the running sensation, who had a strong showing as a freshman finishing third in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600.

Track is known as an individual sport, but Berkshire looks at it more as a team sport with friendly competition.

Running, which started in Gaylord Elementary’s “Mileage Club” for Berkshire, wouldn’t be the same without teammates.

“Cross country and track are individual sports, but the team is a huge part – without the team it wouldn’t be the same at all,” Berkshire said. “We have all put in so much effort, and we deserve to go out and race and show what we can do.”

Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. “She’s a gift to the team,” Yates added. “It is an individual sport, but she has the whole team with her and she rallies for the team and the team rallies for her – it’s a family.”

Gaylord has had its share of individual Finals champions in the past under boys coach Matthew Warren, who Yates notes has played an integral part in Berkshire’s training.  But Berkshire is a one-of-a-kind runner for Yates, who has served as both the girls track and girls and boys cross country head coach the past two years at Gaylord.

“I have not seen anything as fine-tuned as Katie Berkshire, and it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Yates, who assisted both Blue Devils programs a few years before taking over. “The intrinsic desire for her is amazing.”

Running cross country and track brings endless challenges for Berkshire to conquer. The results, she notes, come from the training.

“Running shows me any challenge that comes my way I can just overcome,” Berkshire said. “It shows me if I have a goal in my mind, I can accomplish it if I work hard and put in the effort.”

During the fall, Berkshire won eight of her 12 cross country races including the Big North Conference meet and Regional. She’s already qualified for three Division 2 Finals across the two sports and is likely going to add a fourth Finals next month at Hamilton High School.

Before that, Berkshire is going after another Big North title and a Regional championship. Competitions, like those ahead always bring out her best; the conference includes Division 1 opponents.

“I enjoy running against even girls that are faster than me because they always push me to be better and they are there obviously to race and try their best,” Berkshire said. “They are an influence to me that I can get there one day and I can maybe even beat them the next season.”

This year she has hopes of running a sub-5-minute 1,600 to capture the school record; her best in the race is 5:11. She takes on both distance races regularly and also is a regular in relays. In Wednesday’s dual meet at Alpena, she set two personal bests running a 2:25.60 in the 800 and 1:05.71 in the 400.

Berkshire’s favorite event by far is the 3,200, as she likes finding the right pace and rhythm to handle eight laps.

“Most people would think I am crazy for that,” she said of her pick for favorite. “It’s the longest race on the track, and it feels the best for me.”

Yates says Berkshire has yet to run her best 3,200 of the season. The conference, Regional and Final should bring out the best in Berkshire, she noted.

“She’s amazing, and setting the record isn’t good enough for her. She wants to do it again,” Yates said. “She also wants the mile record, and she’s hungry for it.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Gaylord’s Katie Berkshire readies for a relay Wednesday against Alpena. (Middle) Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. (Photos provided by the Gaylord girls track & field program.)