Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Inspiration of Youth

The Inspiration of Youth

I was told once when I was young, by someone I cared about, that 'nobody gives a damn', I was told later in life by someone I love that 'nobody cares', and I was told again when I watched a friend die that 'nobody cared enough'. If I live the rest of my life and gain nothing more than having proven to no one other than myself that these things simply are not true, then I will have lived for a worthy cause.

Today we took the kids from the youth running club to a 5/10k race. The morning was embracingly warm, with no more than a very gentle breeze from the northwest and the race started late enough to allow the sun to rise to just ... over ... ...there - you know, where it feels like it's just right. The kids were apprehensive and excited when we met at the school, running here and there, playing and jumping, and doing their best to be the children that they are.

When we got them to the race, they had two thousand questions each, where are we going to run, how far is it again, where do we turn around, is it o.k. to walk, are you going with us ... they made me smile and it almost made me cry to see their eyes looking for answers, knowing that as long as we were there with them, they'd be o.k.

This is the group we run with three times per week; they're between 8-11 years old. I don't focus on turning them into little elitist runners with a goal of beating someone; we focus on keeping the cardio engaged - and with children this age, that's easy. We run a block or two at a time, letting the slower kids lead and teaching the faster kids about pace, and teaching them all about teamwork. We do short distance relays and 'daisy chain' drills and obstacle courses; and by the time we're finished, it's easily as good a workout as an intense three or four mile run.

Today was another day of proving to them how successful they can be. One young lady told me 'See, Mr. Nick, you didn't think I could do it!'. I found it interesting, because she is a natural runner, and all I ever say is 'can', and I try my best to be consistently encouraging; but it made me think that perhaps this young lady in particular comes from a home where many challenges are in front of her and she wonders in her heart and mind whether she can accomplish goals or overcome the challenges, and perhaps there is something there that says 'no' - and perhaps she gives up before she ever tries. It made me think of all the times I try to get her to participate in the longer runs and she does all she can to avoid it; she's afraid she'll fail.

But today, the first time she showed up for an 'event', was the first time that she put herself to the test of running longer distances. At the beginning she had more questions than all the rest; questions asked quietly and up close, as though she might be afraid of what the other children might think. Her eyes were wide as she looked far off into the distance, all the while searching silently inward.

The race started. She ran. And she ran and she ran and she ran. She didn't stop. She didn't even get tired. When she finished the 5k, she asked if she could run some more. And she did.

"See, Mr. Nick, you didn't think I could do it!" she said.
"No, honey," I replied, "I knew you could do it and you did! I am so proud of you!"

And as all the kids came across the finish line, wondering if they would get a medal, hoping they had done well, we took their pictures and answered all the questions of exhilarating excitement about the next event; and each and every one of them was proud to have completed the race.

Two of them, aged ten and eleven, completed the 10k course, 6.2 miles, in under 48 minutes, which is such a wonderful accomplishment. But all of them, individually and as a group, completed the race as superstars, as winners, as a team, .. as heroes and as the resounding answer to all the people who ever told me that 'nobody gives a damn'. YOU'RE WRONG!

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