As sophomore cross-country runner Rachelle Satori slips on her light blue spikes, the 3/8 inch metal pins lining the sole of her shoes are the only separation between her and the starting line.
Taking a breath, she reminds herself of her strength, training and hard work that has brought her to the Empire 8 Championships. Seconds before the gunfire, Satori stands beside her teammates collecting her thoughts as she moves her tongue along the imprint of the letters “ICXC” inside of her bottom lip.
Tucked away inside the bottom lip of eight other runners, the ICXC tattoo is one of the newest traditions for the women’s cross-country team. This tattoo is only visible when one of the members of the team pulls down her bottom lip. Also, unlike most tattoos, it fades in approximatley seven years because of the acids that are in the mouth and the rubbing action that occurs while eating.
The tradition began with three cross-country runners about four years ago. In 2009, Bridget Hastings ’09 pitched the idea of getting an ICXC tattoo to the team on a whim. Later that season, Hastings was joined by two other teammates, Danielle Sisti ’10 and Meghan Shanley ’12. Hastings, Sisti and Shanley made a bet with then-head coach Bill Ware that if they made it to nationals, he had to get the tattoo as well.
Though the team never made it to national competition that season, the tradition stuck. Today, more than 40 alumnae have the ICXC tattoo, and nine out of the 27 current women’s cross-country team members have it. The three newest runners stamped with the lettering are junior Hannah Wright and sophomores Satori and Anna Fey.
Teammates are not forced or pressured into getting the tattoo, but for those who have the ICXC letters, it is a bond connecting alumnae and current runners.
Last season, Satori made the decision to not get the tattoo.
“When I first came as a freshman, a lot of people had it,” Satori said. “At first I was like, ‘That’s cool, that’s a really cool bonding thing, but I don’t think I am going to do that.’”
She does not know what exactly changed her mind, but Satori said she could not be happier with the decision.
“For me, there is absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t get it,” Satori said. “Whether it will wear off or be there forever, I think it is definitely worth the money and the pain.”
At the close of the 2013 cross-country season, Satori and her teammates excitedly entered Medusa Tattoo Studio, just across from the State Theatre downtown. She walked alongside the green marbled counter, she passed unfinished sketches and artwork plastered across canvases.
The red-inked images across the parlor were more complex and elaborate than the four simple letters Satori will get. Finally, she made her way to the clipboard, Satori finished the last of the paperwork before waiting for her turn in the chair. As she filled it out, tattoo artist Cesar Enciso grabbed his gloves and prepared the station. In the past five years, Enciso has tattooed about 20 “ICXC” designs for the cross-country team.
Wright, took her place next to Enciso, she extended her legs onto the black chair below her. Enciso grabbed the last items off the shelf he needed and turned to Wright and asked, “Is this your first tattoo?” She shook her head no, thinking about the first tattoo she got on her lower back. She stared at him as he poured the ink into a tiny red cap on the tray next to her. “Oh good,” he responded, pouring some alcohol and solution onto a folded paper towel.
Wright pulled down her bottom lip, she released the skin as Enciso spread the alcohol-infused towel over her lip, prepping the area. He handed her another paper towel to collect any excess saliva, Wright again pulled down her lip, but this time kept it pulled tight. Enciso ripped open the package revealing a needle.
Enciso held Wright’s lip still and dipped the needle into the ink and brought it close to the skin, breaking the surface. The original shock was enough for Wright to flinch, but before there is even a moment to react, Enciso is already on the third letter, the “X.” After the second coat, the flinching stops as laughing and conversation took its place. Within three minutes, the entire process is done, and “ICXC” becomes imprinted across the inside of her lip.
“It didn’t hurt that much, there is an original aftershock,” Wright said. “But after a while it fades and by the time you want it to be over, it is.”
Wright said this second tattoo is more of an expression for her commitment to the team and herself as a runner.
“It is nice just to have that one thing with the team, but then you can also carry it around when you are running or in competition by yourself,” Wright said. “So it is nice to carry the team with you in that sense.”
As she stepped out of the chair, Satori took her place. Lying in the chair, she began to tap her feet as she mentally prepared for her turn. Looking to the right, she watched Enciso clean and prepare the station again for her. Satori turned her head to the left, she beamed a smile at her teammates as they stood watching in support.
Satori folded another paper towel, she already knew to pull down her lip. Keeping composure, Enciso cleaned the area, opened a fresh needle and dipped it into the ink before pressing it against her skin. Satori barely moved during the process and is done within four minutes.
Before taking on the position as head coach in the fall of 2012, Erin Dinan worked as the assistant coach with Ware and knew the original team members that started the tattoo tradition.
Though she would never pressure or force anyone to get the tattoo, she said it is a distinct tradition and a symbol of team pride.
“I think it’s incredible,” Dinan said. “Yeah, it is a little weird, it’s on the inside of their lip, but it’s theirs, and they know it.”
Agreeing to the same bet as former coach Ware, if the women’s cross-country team qualifies for nationals this season, she will join Wright, Satori and Fey by adding “ICXC” inside her lip. With the motivation and incentive, all that stands in their way is regionals on Nov. 16 in Mount Morris, N.Y.
Satori said she is lucky to share a connection with a team that chooses to compete in an environment that depends on the contribution of each member.
“I am really proud to be a part of Ithaca track and cross-country because it is an incredible program,” Satori said. “Also, knowing that we are all a part contributing to the success, I am more than willing to tattoo that on my body.”