My son, who is a freshman, joined cross country running this year. He’s never run before. Our highschool does not have many sports teams, just cross country, track, bowling… We don’t have any sports fields. It’s a magnet school with a big academic focus. No loss for our family as we are not particularly athletically minded. But, I am proud of my son for making an effort to try something new and get involved in his new school. His coach told me that he would do great. Our team is usually last place and the focus is for each student to make personal improvements. Perfect.
I went to my son’s second race this morning. It was at Johnson University. I took two other kids with me. We found the parking, walked across a big field carrying camp chairs. We found a place to set up and I pulled out my book to read while we waited for things to start. My other kids explored the area. The girls ran their race first. After we all watched them take off, I moved our chairs over closer to the finish line so we could see the end and encourage the runners. They had to make three one-mile loops, and the last leg was straight up a big hill.
I am finding that I really like cross country as a sport for kids. When all the runners took off, you could quickly see who was leading the pack. For both the girls and boys race there was one runner who was far ahead of their peers and you knew they were probably going to win. And every time they passed our part of the track we cheered them on. Super impressive. Wow. But after maybe the first ten runners went by, the shift of the cheering changed. Now we were just cheering each runner that went past because we wanted to see them succeed in this goal they had set, to run three miles.
There was this one older guy, wearing his school’s colors, leaning over the line, yelling encouragement to all the runners, especially his team. He knew all of them by name and he yelled at each one, COME ON!! KEEP IT UP! YOU CAN DO IT! DON’T LET THEM PASS YOU! PICK IT UP! KEEP GOING!! His tone was kind of rough, someone you would almost expect to be rude or belligerant, but he wasn’t. Everything he said was encouraging. Even when kids, not from his team, lagging far behind the others would pass by, he’d call them out by their team jerseys. COME ON CMA, YOU CAN DO IT! ALMOST THERE!!
There was one boy there who was running with an older gentleman as his escort. I don’t know what his circumstances were, he came in next to last, but oh, how everybody cheered! He did it! He finished! Whatever his back story was, we had all just witnessed him achieve his goal.
In the girls race about half the runners had crossed the finish line and this one girl came tearing up the hill, full out sprinting, giving it everything she got. Y’all, I got teary eyed. It was so inspiring. Was she going to win any recognition for crossing the line? Not really. She wasn’t even in the top twenty. But she was doing her best and putting all her effort into it. And that, to me, is just as much or more than any medals or ribbons.
I came away inspired. I’m running my race too. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the top ten or if I get any recognition for what I’m doing. It’s just giving it my best, pacing myself, knowing when to sprint and when to slow down. And knowing that the ultimate finish line is waiting for me one day and I plan on finishing strong. And I’m so thankful for my cheering squad that yells encouragement from the sidelines. And I hope I can be that cheering squad for others too.