It all started with his friend, Jon. Sam started 6th grade this year, and the opportunity came up for him to join cross-country (also referenced as XC). Sam and Jon are good friends; they go to church together, and they go to the same school too (though not in the same class.) Jon's been running XC for a couple of years now, and he really loves it. Naturally, Jon told Sam how awesome it was, and because Sam does just about anything Jon does, he decided he wanted to join too. One of his other friends, Griffin, who is also Sam's friend from church, was on the team too. To be honest, my husband and I weren't exactly thrilled with the practice schedule of three times every week, and XC meets most every Saturday until November, but it's great exercise, a great sport that isn't as competitive or riddled with face-to-face conflict like basketball or football, and Sam was excited about something other than Minecraft or Star Wars scripting. So we took him to his first practice. In August. In 90-degree heat. So he could run. Up and down hills and through the woods. Awesome.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect at his first XC meet, but he actually did pretty well!! He didn't like all the yelling and cheering everyone was doing for all the kids, and he waved me off with his hand to get me to stop yelling. He was starting to get upset as he approached the finish line, and as soon as he crossed the line, he burst into uncontrollable tears. He was overwhelmed, tired, and he was hurting. But he was able to calm down and walk it off, and posed for this picture with his friends Jon and Griffin. Jon actually won first place, which was his first time placing first (congrats, Jon!!) Sam came in 19th, which I thought was pretty good considering there were at least 50 other kids running and it was his first meet, and Griffin wasn't far behind Sam.
Griffin (right), Sam (middle), Jon (left)
At about the 4th or 5th meet, I cheered on our team at the starting line, then after they disappeared across the field, I headed over to cheer them across the finish line. I saw Sam round the last bend and he had a straight route and flat ground to run to the finish. There was another kid on a different team close behind Sam, and Sam kept looking over his shoulder to see how much farther ahead he was than the other kid. He finished well, but was complaining about his time to one of the coaches and he wanted to know how to be faster. She bent down to get eye-level with him, then told him she had a tip for him to try at the next meet.
Don't look behind you!
She went on to explain that whenever he turned his head to look back, he was actually slowing himself down. He told her he didn't want the other kid to pass him, so he had to look back to see where the other kid was to know how much faster he needed to run to beat him. Her response: "Don't worry about that other kid. You just have to focus on your own running, and keep your eyes on the finish line. Run hard, run fast, and don't look back." She told him to use his other senses, specifically hearing, to determine where other runners were in relation to him: listen to their feet hitting the ground - the louder they ran, the closer they were. Listen to their breathing as they were huffing and puffing, and she told him he could probably even feel them getting closer. But her point was that focusing on where other runners were only served to slow him down if he wasn't completely focused 100% on running his own race.
That's one of the things we love about cross-country. While kids are running against other competitors, they are also running against themselves, always trying to be better than they were last time. Beat their own time by a few seconds more every time they run. Push themselves hard to cross the finish line proudly. And the whole team benefits when every kid on that team does their absolute best, running their own race to the best of their ability.
Are you running your own race? Or are you looking behind you to see where everyone else is in theirs? I don't mean that we should aim to be better than one another. My point is that I think sometimes we get caught up watching everyone else run that we lose sight of what we're doing on our own course, set in place just for us. Or we get off the path a little, when maybe our path is different than the others we're watching. In cross-country, all the kids in the same category run the same course. But that's not true in real life, is it? We may all be special-needs parents, but some of us are running uphill while others are sprinting down in different seasons and circumstances of life. Some are jumping over downed trees in the woods or even running through a creek, so to speak. And the look on my son's face as he literally runs through a creek in the course says it all. He's hating it. But he has to do it. He has no other choice. I know there are many days where this is exactly how I feel too.
The fact is that all of us are running.
And sometimes, it feels like we are running for our lives, or the lives of our children. We're running for more awareness. Better services. Necessary equipment and medicine to stay alive. Inclusion in church. Rights to basic humanity. Just remember that your course is your course. Not anyone else's. You run for you and your kid(s). You run to the best of your ability, to the glory of God - even if your course runs through a creek. Even when it hurts. Even when you can't hear the cheers from the finish line calling to you. Don't worry about where anyone else is, because all that matters is how you run right now. How you get through your own course. How you finish. Do you want to finish well?
And don't look back.