It was the best of times…

You’ve all been to the course and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. (I Corinthians 9:24-25)

 

1979
What’s taking them so long!             
  1983

With apologies to Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times…”

I recently had the pleasure and great honor to have two of my All-State Cross-Country teams inducted into their high school athletic Hall of Fame.

I took even greater pleasure and felt honored by the stories and memories several of them shared with the audience.  To them, running was fun.  It was cathartic. It became an attitude—a way of life.  One they learned from those who ran before them and then passed on to those who followed.

I think the most notable thing during that time of sharing was what I didn’t hear.  They rarely mentioned the meets they won or the championships they earned.  If there was a funny story involved, or a lesson to be learned from a particular race, then it was alright to share it.  Otherwise, the topics ranged from the stories they shared, the friendships formed, the lessons learned and the effect their running experience had on their lives.

These were guys that had married, had children, had furthered their education and worked at a variety of jobs.  But they all started as kids from a little school in north-central Massachusetts.

Narragansett Regional is a small Massachusetts high school with a population of 382 students.  This opposed to, let’s say, Brockton High which checks in with 4,174 students.  The numbers range down from there for all 1,854 schools in Massachusetts.  This gives you some idea of the enormity of their accomplishment.  But we had one “advantage.”  By a special dispensation from the State, 7th and 8th-graders were eligible to try out for the varsity teams.  Imagine the “advantage” that gave us—running 12 and 13-year-olds against teams with 30-40 members, many whom were upper classmen.  Not only that, but our athletes could also choose football, soccer or golf.  It left a small pool of athletes to choose from.

But compete we did.  From 7th grade on.  And each year, we got better.  And soon, the older runners were looking out for the younger.  Members of the same family began to join.  Former runners became coaches.  A tradition was created.  And the expectations began to rise to the point where any loss was considered an insult to the program.

I suppose there was a certain amount of arrogance involved.  But is it arrogance if you really are better than everyone else?  We would always “jog” the course before any meet.  Intimidating?  How about having brutal workouts the day before a meet?  Or climbing Mt. Monadnock twice the day of a meet?  Or running in championship meets with a broken arm or a broken toe?  We worked hard and believed we worked harder than anyone else.  Ergo, we should win.  If we didn’t, it meant that we needed to work harder.  And we did. And, by the way, our girls’ team was right with us each day working just as hard.  We had dozens of trails we named that ranged from ¾ of a mile to 10+ miles.  We ran on trails, on dirt roads, on tar roads, through swamps and rivers, on trails and off trails, up 60-degree inclines and down the same ones.  We ran distance, middle distance and sprints.  We did repeat workout for every distance up to a mile.  And we did it regardless of the weather.  It actually seemed like the meets were our easy days

I know this must sound like all work and no play.  We worked hard and played hard—nearly every day.  Yet, it was fun.  We enjoyed beating on each other and ragging on each other and sometimes even fighting with each other.  But we all had each other’s backs.  We could harass each other, but anyone from the outside did so at their own risk.

Notice I used “we” through most of this writing.  The teams we honored treated me as more than just a coach and I truly appreciated it.  So, they worked their tails off and I went along for the ride.

And what a ride it was!

Where the Magic Happens

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” (Mark Twain)

Don’t be afraid…just believe. (Mark 5:36)

Magic Dreams
Magic Dreams

For the past month or so, I have been searching for members of two of my former Cross-Country teams.  I probably could have said two of my “old” teams since one was from 1979 and the other from 1983.  Let’s see,..that would make them all in their mid to late 50’s.  How on earth did they get so old!  They could be parents or possibly even grandparents by now!  How they must have changed over the years!

Some I have been able to stay in touch with over the years, but most I have not seen since they graduated from high school.  Each of those teams will be honored by being inducted into the Narragansett Regional Hall of Fame on October 21 in recognition of the All-State Championships that each team won.  While their accomplishment obviously doesn’t measure up in importance to recent hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria or to the earthquake in Mexico, it’s still an impressive feat in the local scheme of things.  How many people can claim to have been a part of such an accomplishment.  Today, being the very best at something is often considered too much of a challenge.  We want more teams to feel like they’re the best, so we have leagues, divisions and classes so that a team can win over a smaller selection of teams–teams that may be smaller or less talented than the one, very best team.  We don’t want our children to feel less adequate or less appreciated, so everyone gets a trophy or a ribbon.

The young men (actually, middle-aged men) that will be recognized for their accomplishment really were the best in the entire state.  There were no divisions or classes for those races.  It was simply them against the rest of the state and the state lost.  Was it easy?  Definitely not!  They had to devote time, energy and lots of sweat.  I’m proud of each and every one of them.  And I’m equally proud of all those who, over the years, tried, but never reached that pinnacle of success.  Nevertheless, they made the effort.  they, too, worked hard to the best of their abilities and earned personal success.  I never had the ability to run fast for long distances, but by just being around these hardworking and dedicated young men, I became a better runner and, ultimately a better person.

So, as Mark Twain also said, “Throw off the bowlines.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  Who knows where your greatest success may lie?

Keep on trying.

keep on trying

Don’t be afraid or discouraged because I am with you. (Isaiah 41:13)

As a former teacher, I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated the phrase, “I can’t do it.”  And it seemed the older we got, the easier it became to say it.

When we were born, we immediately began to learn new things.  Whether it was learning to eat on our own, learning to talk, learning to walk, or learning to dress ourselves, everything was brand new to us.  And no matter how silly we looked or how funny we sounded while making those first attempts, we kept on trying until we got it right.  When we learned to talk, we began another learning experience; asking questions.  We asked anything and everything.  We never asked ourselves if what we were asking was silly.  We just kept asking-endlessly.

We were also never afraid to try new things either.  I remember eating bugs to see if they tasted good.  Jumping out of our second-story window into a pile of snow seemed like a good idea at the time.  Bringing home a pocket full of worms was my gift to my mom.  But somehow as we got older we were less willing to try new things.

The girls’ cross-country team at my alma mater began its first season shortly after I became the assistant running coach.  The team consisted of a couple of upper-class girls and several junior-high girls.  Never having coached girls distance runners before, we weren’t sure of exactly how to coach them.  So we simply trained them with the boys’ team and expected them to keep up.  Since they didn’t know any better, they did a great job of keeping up.  They ended up trashing most of their female counterparts  because they believed that was what they were supposed to do.  They had no fears or doubts about themselves.

The very successful coach of the UConn womens’ basketball team, Geno Auriemma, deals with each year’s new recruits with this admonition, “Don’t tell me you can’t do something.  I’ll tell you when you can’t so something.  The team has won 11 national champions since 1995 and are currently trying to win their twelfth.  Along the way, they have compiled winning streaks of 75, 90 and currently at 108 and counting.

I guess the bottom line is don’t be afraid to ask questions or to try something new.  We should always try to keep learning new things and to experiment with new activities.  Who knows what kind of new success and fulfillment you may find.  You’ll never find out unless you try.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use it or lose it!

Keep moving.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12:6)

Thirty-five years ago, I used to run 80-100 miles a week to be able to run a marathon.  I ran one two years in a row.  And I finished both.  Now I run an average of once a month.  Guess what?  I can no longer run a marathon.  In fact, I have a hard time running to the mailbox.  Okay, I’m 67 years old, have arthritis, have had 3 heart attacks and am 25 pounds overweight.  But did I stop running because of my physical conditions?  Or am I in my present physical condition because I stopped running.

The singing group that I used to be a part of eventually disbanded because one of our main singers felt his voice was no longer good enough to perform.  The problem?  He only sang at our once-a-month practices and at our concerts.  Other members were part of our church worship team and sang at least twice a week.  Some of simply love singing all the time.  My wife and I recently traveled with four other friends to and from Florida by car.  We sang along with the songs on the radio for hours at a time.  When we returned home, I found that my voice was clearer and had a greater range than it had for a long time.

Our brain works the same way.  My memory is no longer as good as it once was.  Because of that, I often turn to wife to help me remember something rather than continuing to concentrate on my own to remember whatever it was.   I forget names and I forget words while having a conversation.  I know some of that happen may happen simply because we get older.  More brain cells die off.  But I wonder if using our minds more and in more complicated ways, we could help to improve our ability to think and delay the onset of memory problems.  Do we lose our mental sharpness because our mind is slowing down or does our mind slow down because we don’t use it think in ways that require mental sharpness.

God gave each of us certain talents and abilities that are different for each of us.  There are those that help us to achieve positions of authority.  Others may give us the ability to put us in the public eye and make us famous.  Others may be things that help us to work behind the scenes in total obscurity.  And many fall in between.  But if we don’t continue to do what we were made to do, our ability to do it begins to diminish.  It’s like exercising your muscles.  The more you work out, the stronger you get.  If you never use those muscles, they atrophy and your strength diminishes.

So, don’t give up on those things you were made to do and keep yourself going as long as you are physically and mentally able.  You’ll find your life will be full and you’ll never be bored.