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Monday, July 11, 2005

Royal blue Nikes with yellow swoosh stripes

The summer Olympic games of 1976 changed my life.

In-between mowing lawns for the neighbor for $ 6.00 a pop and endless games of "Risk" with my brothers, that summer brought a memorable event. Frank Shorter ran into the history books when he won a silver medal in the Montreal Olympic marathon.

Before then, I never thought I could compete in foot races. In fact, my all-too-miserable one year of Little League in third grade and the constant shelacking my brother gave me in tennis convinced me that when God passed out the athletic ability, He'd played a cruel joke on me. My sporting "meter" registered somewhere between little and none-at-all.

But Frank Shorter gave me hope. After all, how hard could running be? You don't have to throw a ball or pin an opponent. By my way of thinking, what could be easier? All you had to do was put one foot in front of another. A few lawns later, and I had enough to make the "big purchase." I was the proud owner of a pair of royal blue Nike trainers, with a distinctive yellow "swoosh" up the side.

I'll never forget the first day of cross-country practice. I was a green freshman, but Mr. Tike (pronounced "tie-key") was a veteran. Whistle hanging around his neck, his body bulging with muscles I doubted I'd ever have, he barked out the orders like a drill sergeant: "Ok, everyone, take a mile lap." We took off around the course. My time was around 7 1/2 minutes. "Do another one," he snapped. 7 min 45 sec this time; I was tiring. (Maybe I should have trained a little harder at home?) My disbelief only grew as he said "do another one" six more times. That day, we ran 8 timed miles around the ball fields of our high school. Purgatory is too pale a word.

The next two years brought many cross-country meets, and most of the time, I was 2/3 back in the pack at the finish line. Mediocre though I was, it helped that I ran for a mediocre team. At the end of the second year, they pinned a letter on me. I'd proven something to myself. I could compete not only in academics, but also in athletics. My junior year saw me working produce part-time at the neighborhood grocery store. I'd proved my point; I never competed in cross-country again.

The summer of '76 seemed like a long time ago tonight when I ran a mere two miles around the property where we now live. A human body at 42 is a different creature than one at 13. Slow though I now am, I'm reminded as I puff along the rocky path that running is more than earning an athletic letter, or even shedding a few unwanted pounds. Running is a metaphor for life.

Running has taught me that there's bound to be someone better than you. That's no reason to sit out the race. It's a reminder that just when you feel the most like quitting, don't. Your "second wind" is about to kick-in. Running teaches perseverance, that anything worth winning is worth the hard work. And most of all, running reminds us of our limitations, that to press up the next hill, we need the strength that only God can give, and the encouragement that comes from teammates in the race, or cheerleaders along the course.

I never accomplished a fraction as a runner of what Mr. Shorter did, but that's OK. Maybe there's another competition for me yet. But even if I never race again, I won't forget the lessons learned when for two seasons I strapped on my royal blue Nikes with yellow swoosh stripes.


At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Justin said...

Great, great post. I'm little now, but in junior high I was about 60 pounds overweight -- really -- but I ran cross country anyway. I got laughed at, thought I would die, but I did my best. Came in last every single time, but I did it. I'm 140 pounds now and still run occasionaly.

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