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.