Sunday, June 07, 2015

Lessons from the back of the pack.

When I was 19 I made the transition from a high school sprinter to a college distance runner. One of the reasons that I chose Bethel University (then Bethel College) was the Track team. I loved high school Track and Field and, though I was not very good, I thought that I could run for a small college. In my first week of my Freshman year I sought out the Track coach only to have him show zero interest in having me on his team. All through that year I wanted so badly to be a part of the team but had to watch from the sidelines. Fortunately, I met the assistant Cross Country coach who convinced me that I could make the change to long distances. So I trained all summer and showed up the next fall ready to become a member of the Cross Country team. It turned out that I loved Cross Country even more than I had loved Track. It also turned out that I was not very good at it.

I was on the Cross Country and Track teams for three years each, and I did see improvement in those years. However, I was never one of the top runners on the team. No matter how hard I worked I just could not overcome a distinct lack of athletic ability. When someone tells you that you can do anything with hard work and perseverance, they are wrong. Sometimes someone with natural ability is just better than you no matter how hard you work. That was a hard life lesson that I did not enjoy learning.

So, if you are not all that good at something, why pour your heart and soul into it? I'll break it down in movies. When it comes to sports movies, most of them have one of two endings. The first is when the plucky underdog loses to the champ but gains everyone's respect by refusing to accept defeat quietly. Rocky and Mystery, Alaska fall into this category. The second is the story of the plucky underdog that gets the unlikely victory. The Mighty Ducks and Best of the Best are my favorite examples. Then there is Rudy. The story of the guy who barely makes the team and only gets a few seconds of playing time but still wins everyone's respect. I was like Rudy, except that no one chanted my name after a big race and they did not make a movie about my life. I loved running, I worked hard at it, and I encouraged my teammates in their pursuit of personal records. There was not much glory, but it did not matter.

What did I learn at the back of the pack? I learned that it is good to give yourself over to a goal. I learned that sometimes the rewards are small, but they are enough to keep you going. I learned that I am a better father, husband, and employee because I learned how to work hard at something that most people did not understand. The back of the pack is often a difficult place to be but there are important lessons to be learned if you can stick it out.

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