My A… he’s quite a kiddo, that one. Math prodigy, confident performer, compassionate little soul. Faithful, kind, and bright, he really is a great kid. Sure, he’s got his quirks and less favorable traits (fiercely driven by place/score/percentage would be one!!!), but, overall, I hit the Lotto with that child.
He’s also a really good runner. If I’m honest, I”ll tell you that it’s actually weird for me to type that. I’m still sort of wrapping my own brain around it because the truth is that, for a long time, I sort of assumed that A. was one of these kids who’s wildly talented academically, but perhaps lacking athletically. I never vocalized that, but it’s what I was thinking. Of course, since I arrived at that assumption, the child has gone on to get his red belt in karate and crank out some seriously fast race times.
Lesson learned– don’t assume.
Anyway, this past Saturday was our town’s annual K-6 Cross Country Run. Up until junior high, we don’t have “official” cross country teams around here. Sure, you can join private clubs/leagues, but it’s not a school sport. But each October, the six PE teachers for our K-6 population organize a meet for the kids who want to run. And, of course, A. wanted to run.
I don’t know how much you know about running– I don’t know much, myself– but my nine-year-old typically runs a mile in the low sevens– 7:11, 7:18. 7:08, etc… those are all recent times of his. And they’re good. A time like that, for a fourth grader, will almost always make you the fastest in your gym class and will catch the notice of adult runners. Is it record-breaking? Of course not. But it’s fast. And, when your time is already considered quite fast, it means a lot to shave even a few seconds off of it.
A. ran the mile on Saturday in 6:58.
That is STAGGERING, really. It’s an amazing time. But you know what’s even more amazing?
That time got him fourth place. Among fourth grade boys.
With only the top three receiving medals– AS IT SHOULD BE– he was the first to cross the line who didn’t receive recognition.
And it was rough.
I could see it all over his face– the harsh disappointment, the frustration, and, honestly, the surprise.
In that field of about 30 runners, we had FIVE fourth grade boys break a seven-minute-mile.
My competitive little guy was upset. He was angry with himself. He was bitter about his place. He was disgusted that he “lost.”
“Buddy– look at your TIME,” I tried to remind him. Your time was fantastic!”
He kicked a pebble.
“Honestly, kiddo, you were just in an incredibly fast group. A 6:58 mile? Would put you at the top of many fourth grade groups– just not this one. And that’s great! It means you’ve got lots of people to push you to get even better!”
He looked away.
The gym teachers praised his time. Other parents congratulated him. His peers remarked on his speed and high-fived him.
But none of it really mattered– because, well, fourth place is hard.
And then a group of high school cross country runners asked him, “So how’s you do today? Good run?”
And he responded, without expression, “6:58.”
“Dude! I can’t make that time!” A long-legged girl replied, her ponytail bobbing.
“That’s an AWESOME time,” her friend agreed.
“That’s a high school time,” a freshman boy told my son, giving him a nod of respect.
And A. looked up, still not really smiling.
I smiled crookedly and said, “He got fourth.”
Because, that’s the thing– it’s a total fluke that this particular group of boys housed that much talent. Truly? The gap between number five and number six was vast. Huge, really. Almost thirty seconds which, when it comes to a mile time, is gigantic. That’s not because the rest of those boys were slow! Nope– it’s because five of those boys were incredibly fast.
And when those slack-jawed high school runners shook their heads in disbelief and mavelled at this little group of upcoming speed demons, I think it finally sank in for A…
And he realized that those words of Greg King’s are indeed true:
“There’s a difference between losing a game and getting beat. If you lose a game, then you have made mistakes that cost a victory, but that wasn’t the case.”
And he finally realized…
he didn’t lose that race.