Kid’s Tough

He had the look. As he tightened his shoelaces, tucked in his shirt and carefully donned his sunglasses, he had all the makings of a racer. He was a runner in search of a 5K PB. Everyone around him knew it.

Making his way to the start line, he was oblivious to the other runners around him. There was no competition – no one to fear, no one to chase, no one to beat. There was only the distance between the start and finish lines. Somewhere in between those two lines lay his destiny.

Standing in the crowd just minutes before the gun sounded, he seemed distant, alone and focused. There was little about him that suggested what lay ahead. Nothing distinguished him. This unlikely hero blended in with the other runners waiting to take on the challenge of the course, the day – and themselves.

At the start, he charged boldly ahead. He was unable, it appeared, to contain his enthusiasm. He searched for position and his piece of the road. And more importantly, he searched for the rhythm and pace that would carry him to the finish.

At the one-mile mark he was running faster than his goal pace. Some of us doubted his strategy. The course was not impossible, but it was unusual – an out-and-back route that was uphill to the turnaround, then downhill to the finish. Those of us with more experience knew this and held back. But he pressed on – no fear!

At the turnaround he was still on pace for a PB. In fact, he was well ahead of pace. He could easily have backed off and enjoyed the downhills in the second half of the race. But he didn’t. Today was his day to find out what time he was capable of running. So he didn’t even think about letting up.

By mile two, the indiscretion of his early strategy was starting to show. His stride became more determined, his breathing more deliberate, his focus more narrow. A battle was being waged between his body and his spirit. He was tired… but he wasn’t finished.

As the three-mile mark came into view, his pain was obvious. He had come this far – to within half a mile of his goal – and it was beginning to slip through his fingers. He had to face his choices: he could reach down and see what he had left, or he could give in to the fatigue. It is a point that all of us encounter when we race.

The pursuit of a PB is not for the timid. Often we don’t see the line between success and failure until it’s too late. It is a high-risk, high-reward venture that measures a person’s courage as much as it does their skill. A runner must be prepared to fail miserably to have any hope of succeeding modestly.

But it was this runner’s first encounter with himself. You see, Andrew was only eight years old. And suddenly, two and a half miles into a 3.1-mile race, he had to confront himself. Like so many of the adults around him, Andrew had to decide if he was willing to confront the worst in himself in order to find the best.

Somewhere in his eight-year-old soul he found the strength of character that he needed. And so he ran. He ran less with style and form, and more with grit and frenzy. He wasn’t running with his legs, he was running with his heart.

As he finished, as he staggered through the chutes, he still had no idea what he had done. It wasn’t until later that he learned he’d broken his own best effort by almost five minutes. But he had achieved so much more than that.

He had found the path to himself. At just eight years of age, he found a way into himself that some of us search a lifetime to find. And in the process, he showed those around him that the joy of accomplishment really is as simple as child’s play.

Waddle on, friends.