The Last Race

It felt like his heart might beat out of his chest and he could feel the blood pumping hard through his veins so he jumped a few times in place trying to calm his nerves, but it didn’t help.   His breath was hanging like a small cloud of smoke in front of him and the runner next to him was so close he could feel the heat radiating from his body. It has been a long time coming, but today was the day he’d worked for since he was in seventh grade. 

The last race.

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He wasn’t on the track long before he heard the official shout “Get on your mark!”  He carefully placed his toe on the start line, leaned in with one leg bent and the other ready to propel him forward.  He put his head down slightly and set his gaze straight ahead, he’d made up his mind to do his best, no matter what.  This was the last chance he had to make a difference, to leave his mark, to walk away from his long time sport with a sense of accomplishment.  Oh, he knew he wasn’t in the running for first place, but the great thing about running is every race is personal; you race against you, and today was no different.  He had his personal record to beat, and he planned to do it.  Time wasn’t the only thing on his mind, he also had a person he wanted to leave behind; a runner who’d challenged him all year long. 

To be ahead of him when they crossed the finish would be a taste of personal victory.

His focus was clear and he was ready when he heard the gun blast, POW!   And away they went.  There must’ve been over twenty runners fighting for a decent spot.  You never want to be in the back of the pack when you’re racing against this level of talent.  After all, only a select few make it to state finals, and everyone wants to be declared the winner.   It almost looks like a fight with all the elbows flying trying to keep the nearest runner from getting the advantage.

The first hundred meters is forceful and unforgiving and certainly not for the faint of heart.

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He managed to stay in the front pack, running so closely their knees knocked into the runner in front of them.  He had been a more passive runner in the past, allowed other more aggressive boys to get the upper hand because he wasn’t willing to fight for a place.  But, not today, today he was going to push right back and win a spot in the front.  Every step was labored, crowded, and in his mind he felt sure this pack running was a bad idea. 

Then it happened.

He wasn’t sure who did it exactly, but suddenly he felt himself falling, his back leg pinned by the shoe of a runner behind him.  It all happened so fast, but it felt like slow motion.  Down, down until he felt the hard sting of his knee and then his shoulder hit the rough surface of the track.  He knew he would never catch the runners if he didn’t do something quickly, he made two quick summersaults and was back on his feet ready to fly when he heard his saving grace, POW!

False start.

All the boys jogged to a stop and turned around walking back to take the start line again.  Secretly he was glad he’d made his stand, wasn’t bullied to the back like he’d been so many times before, even if it cost him a few scrapes and bruises.  He wasn’t going to have a repeat of yesterday; he’d made up his mind.  As the couple dozen young men took their mark for a second time, he knew he’d already had a personal victory.

Running his best time and beating a rival would just be a bonus.

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As I sat in the rain under a borrowed tent in forty degree weather last weekend to watch this final race, my mind was filled with all that had happened in the twenty four hours leading up to this moment.  We’d left Friday morning, driven in rain the entire four hour trip and arrived in time to watch my youngest son run a shorter relay race.  The rain was pelting him in the face as he ran and he’d been pushed off the edge of the track by other “ambitious” runners at the start line.  He ran his slowest time of the season and walked away with his head down.

It was such a blow to his confidence.

My heart felt like it might break at the sight.

He had hoped to arrive at state and beat all of his previous running records and make his team proud.  But, the first race left him beaten and unsure.     It’s times like these as a parent you hold your breath to see how your child, this person you’ve poured your heart into, is going to handle a tough spot.  Will they falter under the pressure and believe the lies the enemy of our souls wields at us when we’re down?  Believing they have no worth and will never be able to accomplish this feat?  Or will they dig deep and remember WHO they belong too and rise to the occasion?

I have been both of those people throughout my life. I’ve caved in to self-pity and self-doubt and I’ve been hit hard by life and risen to the heights the Lord has placed within me.

I went to dinner with my fellow track parents wondering where the gavel would fall for my son.

He opted to go to dinner with us instead of eating with his teammates as he would normally and I watched him at the end of the table; he was quiet and I knew why.  Thank the Lord for good friends, people who love you no matter how you “perform,” the ones who stick by you when things don’t go as planned.  It didn’t take long for them to lift his spirits and I was so thankful when he seemed to feel a little better.

I’ve always told my kids that tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start, a clean slate.  Honestly, I haven’t always lived as though I believed it, but I knew in my heart it was true.  Quietly I prayed he would remember those words and decide on his own that this did not have to be the whole story of his final track meet.

He still had one final race.

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He took his place on the start line again and was on his mark when the gun exploded, POW!

And they were off.

His heart was beating fast and the racers next to him began to throw the same elbows, but this time he would run smarter.  He edged his way to the outside and began to push like he’d never done before.  Never mind his scraped knee and elbow or his embarrassment, this was a second chance and he was going to make it count.

He noticed after a few laps that his rival was running ahead of him.  He was already breathing heavy, but he knew he would never forgive himself if he didn’t pass his opponent before the race ended.  And then it happened, this feeling of determination to finish strong, no matter the cost, welled up within him.

His legs felt like led, but suddenly it didn’t matter, he began to “dig deep” as his momma called it, and pushed himself a little harder.  He was able to speed up just enough to have his opponent within reach and at two laps from the finish he slowly passed the one he’d been chasing.  

The bell rang, signifying the start of the last lap; a quarter of a mile, his last chance at redemption.   The burning in his legs was nearly unbearable, and the pain on his face was evident, but the finish line was in sight and he knew it would all be worth it on the other side.

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I stood by the fence not far from the finish cheering as loudly as I could, “Go, don’t give up, you can do it!”  He was almost done.  He went around the first curve and sprinted hard on the straight away and then it was time for the last curve and the sprint to the end.  I could tell he was running hard, hair flying and arms pumping, each step bringing him closer to the bright white finish line and the illuminated clock bearing for all to see your timed accomplishment.  Agony was on his face, but determination lived in his eyes.  There was no way his rival could catch him now, it was the clock he wanted to beat.

Victory was sweet.

I cannot tell you how it felt once he passed over the line with his best time of the season and ahead of his competitor; pure joy might be the best description.  My heart soared, but not just for his personal victory, but because he’d done the very thing I’d prayed for…

Risen to the occasion.

This child has given us many memories and good times, and he blessed this momma’s heart by trying his very best after a difficult day before.  What more can you ask for really?  Was he first place? No.  Is he a champion? Yes.

A champion in all the things that matter.

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