just a mom figuring it out one day at a time

Running Can Be Fun

I watched as my daughter lined up at the starting line with the other runners that sunny fall day. Anxious anticipation spread through her face and I, the ever watchful mom, waited for a sign of trepidation since this was her first meet and she had come into the season late and hadn’t practiced as much as the other kids.

There was none.

The children took off to run their 2K course and soon enough KC’s peers dashed out in front of her.

As the pack thinned, I could see her looking around and realizing that she was alone. She wasn’t just “at” the back of the pack, but she was absolutely the last runner.

I met her at the various check points and offered words of encouragement.  At one point, not far from the end, she had almost given up and was walking.

“Sweetie, you can do this!” I said in my cheeriest voice.

KC turned to me, rolled her eyes and said, “No, I can’t. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do cross country. I suck mom. I suck. Don’t you see? I’m the last runner out here.”

What do you say to that? She was right. She was the last one, but it also didn’t mean that she “sucked.”

Although I had never run cross country, I had run my share of road races and knew what it felt like to be one of the slower runners.   Once, while battling a migraine on a race route, I nearly got picked up by the sweep bus.  I pushed on, narrowly missing being forced off of the course because I was too slow.

I got it. It was humiliating.

“KC. I know how you’re feeling. But the important thing is that you finish. Just finish. Finishing is far better than giving up.”

KC shot me another eye roll, but began to jog again. I matched her step by step until the finish line.

Hugging her at the end, she turned to me and said, “I finished mom, but I still suck. I was the last runner in my whole age group.”

As her friends swarmed around her at the finish, each clutching a top 10 or top 20 finisher ribbon, things only seemed to get worse.  Not only had they run faster than KC, they had all placed.

Trying to get her to cross country practice that week was an exercise in patience.  Being only eight, she understood the concept of practice but didn’t fully grasp that in order to get better she would need to practice.  Again she compared herself to her peers and again I pointed out that all of her friends had played soccer routinely and had a few more cross country practices under their belts than she had.  All of these things would make them more advanced than she was.

Under much protest, I got her to practice and this is where good coaching comes in.

KC was blessed to have two wonderful and warm coaches. No matter what the weather or circumstances, these two women met these kids—each and every one of the 105 runners—where they were and offered words of encouragement and many hugs. Equally important, they made practice fun for these kids.

Each of the practices got better and I finally was able to convince KC to try running at another meet.  The meet played out much like the first one. Again, she was at the back of the pack and again she didn’t get a ribbon. But at least there was one other little girl who finished behind her.

Disappointed, KC again didn’t want to go to practice, but I pointed out that she had improved and each time would get better.

A few weeks went by and we came to our home meet, which would also serve as her last race.

At the starting line she beamed a smile at me and said, “I’m gonna get a ribbon this time mom. I just know it.”

The starting horn blew and off she went. While she still trailed behind most of the runners, she was doing better than she ever had.  I watched her along the route, slowly passing other runners. Coming around the bend I met her near one of the check points and cheered her on.

Running Girl 2

Then at one point, near the end, she slowed and looked as if she was going to give up.  One of her coaches saw her and cheered her on. There was an exchange of smiles and KC had a short burst of energy which carried her through to the finish line.

Just before she got out of the corral, they handed her a participant ribbon. She hadn’t placed, but being able to hold that ribbon brought a huge grin to her face.

“Mom! I got a ribbon, I told you I would!!! And I wasn’t last, there were lots of kids behind me!!!”

With that, I held her in my arms, tears gathering in my eyes.

A few days after that race, KC heard about a local Turkey Trot and asked if we could run it.  I told her we could, but only if she trained for it.  So now a few days a week, I lead a training run with KC and even a few of her fellow cross country friends.

Yesterday afternoon we had the end of the season party and award ceremony.  I watched as each of the kids, including KC, got up and retrieved their medals, each smiling.

Medals

KC was a winner this season–even if it wasn’t in the traditional sense.  She won because she learned a valuable lesson about patience, hard work and pushing herself.  Luckily she also learned that running could be fun. Much of the credit for this goes to her coaches, whom I can’t thank enough.  If you are a coach and wonder sometimes if you are making a difference, know that you are probably making the biggest difference to that kid who at the beginning of the season was convinced that they “sucked” but who ended the season with a huge smile and sense of accomplishment.

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