The Finish Line

As my children go through life I keep my fingers crossed they are learning lessons that will anchor them as adults. Such lessons range from, if the burner is red, don’t touch it, to asking permission before borrowing any item that belongs to someone else.

Kids learn many of these lessons at home. But, as I learned this week, lessons aren’t always predictable and sometimes they teach more than the intended target.

My oldest son, Lincoln, signed up for a track and field camp this summer. He enjoys the practices where he can participate in each event without the pressure of competition. Although he’s enjoyed learning the long jump and taking part in the shorter races, he prefer the distance events.

That’s Lincoln in the blue shirt, taking his time down the final stretch.

Every other week, a meet is held where children around the greater Seattle area are invited to participate in a number of events. Although the atmosphere is geared towards having fun, the children earn ribbons and the events are timed. The kids also race in front of an audience which enhances their desire to perform well.

One lesson I want my children to learn is to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

Two months ago, Lincoln’s pinewood derby won 9 of 9 races, and he took home the first place trophy. I was proud at how he carried himself that evening. At the time, I didn’t realize this was his first taste of competition, and he came away without experiencing a loss.

Fast forward to the last two track meets where he finished dead last or second to the last in each race he entered. By the time the third meet arrived, he said his muscles were sore. Or he was tired. Or whatever might get him out of competing. We told him, if he was tired, he could enter one race instead of three most children do. He’d run hard the day before at practice, and we explained to him that some soreness was to be expected.

When we arrived at the track he broke down in tears. We’d packed up the family and travelled about 50 minutes to the high school where the meet took place. Kim and I considered heading back to the car and calling it a night. But we discussed it and decided that Lincoln should compete in one event. He’d committed to the program, and I didn’t matter if he crossed the line last as long as he gave his best effort. Also, his team from Auburn was counting on him.

Lincoln sulked his way over to his coach and entered the 100 meters. Although he got off to a good start, he came in last place. He probably didn’t enjoy running past all those parents only to cross the finish line after everyone else. After the race, he came over to us. He didn’t complain or make excuses. We hugged him, told him we loved him and were proud of his effort.

As I stood next to Kim, just off the track, the girls racing the 100 meters ran in front of us towards the finish line. As they crossed, a man handed each of them a ribbon. Parents were there to greet them and more hugs were exchanged.

That’s when I noticed one girl. She was still running down the track nearing the half way mark. Well, she wasn’t running, she was hobbling. But even that’s not a good description of what I saw. This little girl with long black hair, was rocking back and forth from one leg to the next, angling her body down the track. As she got closer to me, I noticed she was wearing a brace on both legs. Her legs didn’t bend at the knee like the other girls who were off preparing for their next event.

As she neared the stands, the parents erupted in applause and encouragement.

I turned to Kim and said, “I wish Lincoln were still here to see this.” He was off playing with his friends under the stands.

There will be more opportunities for Lincoln to learn that winning isn’t everything. I know that after witnessing this brave little girl, I focus less on the winning and more on enjoying whatever sport he decides to take up.

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