There’s More Than One Way To Win

We knew fairly early on that our sons might not be the most coordinated children ever. They had zero interest in riding bicycles at a time when most young children are asking for one. We enrolled them in t-ball, only to spend most of the games praying they would not be hit by balls given that Joe would be in the outfield staring off in another direction and Luke would be playing second base but would be chatting up the runner there rather than paying attention. We put them in occupational therapy about the time they were 6 because they struggled with both fine and gross motor skills. About that time, after failed attempts to get them interested in baseball, soccer, or swimming, we put away our thoughts that they might play team sports.

When they started at Denver Academy, a school for neurodiverse learners, we were surprised that the school suggested all students in 9th grade pursue a sport. Early on I thought, if our sons needed to participate in a sport, perhaps running would be a good way to go. The best part about cross-country and track meets is that your competition is yourself. Sure, you run with other runners and your times will be put up against the times of other runners, but your race time is yours to work on and improve. No one else is going to carry you over the finish line. In these running sports, each event provides an opportunity to achieve your personal best. Running is a measurable growth enterprise.

Both our sons rose to the occasion in cross-country and track. Both began to see that maybe they were more interested in athletics than they thought they were. These were amazing things to witness. Watching Joe go from finishing 8th out of 8 runners to moving up to 6th out of 8 and then eventually watching him finish in first place in a 400m event was unbelievable. Witnessing Luke plug along in cross-country and then decide to try his hand at discus in track and field was something else entirely. Running taught the boys a lot about what they are capable of and how far they can go. But what impressed us about watching our sons in these sports was seeing them engage with other runners, form friendships, and become cheerleaders for their teammates.

In the end, our sons grew as runners but, more than that, they evolved as teammates, leaders, and competitors. This cross-country season, I watched Luke in several races chatting as he ran alongside members of other teams. After one event in particular, I remember Luke approaching the guy he had been running with and congratulating him on his time, which was faster than Luke’s. Joe and Luke both became invested in their sports and their teammates. They ran along with the kids who were struggling towards the end of a race. They stayed long after their events ended to cheer on their friends on their team and others. Both became team leaders. Joe was awarded Runner of the Year for track his junior year (stupid Covid eliminated track his senior year). And tonight, at the award ceremony for fall sports, Luke was given the Mr. Mustang Award for leadership in cross-country.

All of this has given me reason to be proud. But what strikes me the most about our sons’ personal growth in sports is that I had been looking at their earlier struggles with athletics the wrong way. Our kids might not have been star athletes playing in championship games or qualifying for State in their events, but they excelled in ways far more valuable in the long term than that. Their struggles gave them different skills. You don’t have to be the fastest runner or strongest athlete to be important to your sport or your team. You can be gracious in defeat and kind to competitors. You can be positive and encouraging with teammates. You can be dedicated to improving your skills and sharing what have learned. Those traits might actually make a bigger impact on your world in the long run. Here I was, wanting them to be competitors to be reckoned with, and it never occurred to me that two kids who struggled with athleticism early in life might just have something compassionate to teach others about sportsmanship and the gifts to be found in working hard, doing the best you can, and being supportive of others, even when they best you.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My sons have taught me far more than I ever taught them. I’m not sure they’ll ever be able to teach me to run though.

Mr. Roger’s Wisdom

There might just be a silver lining in these clouds.
There might be a silver lining in these clouds.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~Fred Rogers

Explosions in two different states rocked our country this week. In less than 72 hours, bombings in Boston and a deadly chemical explosion in Texas stole the lion’s share of media attention. My Facebook news feed first erupted with posts about the details of the damage and then was quickly overburdened with online prayers and calls for donations. On Monday evening after watching about 20 minutes of reporting on the bombings at the Boston Marathon with my sons, I turned the television off because we’d seen everything we needed to see. The damage was extensive, the loss of life tragic, and the implications disturbing.

On Tuesday, the quote listed above from television’s beloved Mr. Rogers began circulating on Facebook. It was shared thousands of times, a much appreciated reminder to look for the positive when everything seems bleak. And so we did. As a collective community, new posts began emerging about the runners who crossed the finish line at the marathon and kept on running two additional miles to Boston General to donate blood for those injured in the attacks. Restaurants offered free meals to those who couldn’t pay. Ordinary citizens rushed into the fray and used items of their clothing to create tourniquets for the wounded. In West, Texas, emergency responders from up to 100 miles away showed up to offer their services in the wake of that deadly explosion. Those willing to help in times of grave tragedy are often too many to count. And in a way, knowledge of the kindness of strangers somehow removes some of the sting from these horrific incidents. Selfless acts of generosity and compassion bring hope. And it sure does make you feel good about human kind to see the best side of people rather than the side you see most days while stuck in traffic or waiting at the doctor’s office or shopping in a crowded Costco.

I have to wonder what would happen in this country if people treated each other each day with the type of consideration, care, and concern they offer during the worst of times. We all rally together to fix meals for a family when we find out someone is having surgery, but how often do we offer to share a meal just because we can tell someone could use a night off? We volunteer to shovel the driveway for the elderly neighbor when she breaks her hip, but why don’t we offer our services as a matter of routine because we are able-bodied and generous of spirit? We sit and stew in traffic, refusing to let the numbnuts who waited until the last minute to merge into the construction traffic into our lane. We look back and notice someone coming into the store but judge that the ten feet they are away from us doesn’t merit our time to wait and hold the door for them. We moan and groan and whine about having to volunteer for things. We complain every time a request is made of us. We somehow figure that donating $10 through a text or dropping some unwanted clothes off at a local thrift store qualifies us for being a good person while we still commit crimes of indifference toward each other each and every day.

Now I am in no way implying that I am my best self every day. My kids can verify that I provide a steady litany of swear words and derisive comments on the highway. And sometimes when I hold the door for someone out of kindness and they fail to acknowledge me I will pop off with a highly sarcastic You’re Welcome as the person walks away. It’s difficult for me to be selfless. Very difficult. Like many people, I work hard for my family and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve done my fair share and given all I have to offer. I do wonder, though, how much better I would feel about myself and the world if I offered just a bit more of my kindest self to others without a flippant attitude or the hope of acknowledgment. I know we can’t all be Mother Teresa, but I do believe that we’d be a lot happier in this nation if we showed up with our best selves more often. If we tried just a bit harder to be a helper every single day, even in the smallest of ways, I have to believe that this country would be a much happier place to live.