Seriously, they do. It’s always at the end of the meets, and it’s always the kids in last place that make me cry. And the coaches…the coaches contribute to my tears too.
Erin is in her second year of running cross country for our high school, but in her first season that girl came in last place for her team. every. single. race. Not last in the race, but last for her team. (But here’s the thing, she also “won” every single time. That girl set a personal record each and every race – the whole season – I’ll write more about her later.) Here’s the other thing, her coach was always on the course – urging her on. I would have expected her to be off with the varsity runners, congratulating them on their races, but no – she was always waiting for Erin – her last place runner.
That got me every time. But what makes me choke up at each and every race is the runners that literally come in last in the race. And…well, their coaches.
Let me set the scene…
The first runners sprint to the finish, you wonder how they have anything left in them, but suddenly they do and it’s amazing. Then the middle runners come in and that’s exciting as you see them jostle for position right to the finish line. Then you wait….and wait…and wait…several (or most) people wander away, anxious to find and congratulate their runners, but of course a few parents still have kids on the course…somewhere.
The first race of this year really got me. Our school had a runner still on the course, so Kevin, Courtney and I waited for him, along with one other family waiting for their runner from a different school. Finally, here comes a runner, and I realize one of the people waiting off by himself wasn’t family, it was his coach. And then he is running alongside his runner – off the course – but running, yelling encouragement to him, telling him to lift those legs and use those arms, and we see the runner respond. I’m chocked up. Then our runner comes around the corner, and there are our two coaches whom I hadn’t seen before – yelling encouragement to him. (Tears spring to my eyes.)
I am convinced this is the stuff that matters in life, and I get to watch it each week of the cross country season.
A few weeks later at another race, we again waited for that last runner – along with lots of other people – finally he came to that last stretch before the finish line and the crowd that is left erupts…clapping and yelling to him. Tears spring to my eyes again.
I don’t usually know the last runner, it doesn’t matter who they are, or what school they are from, what matters is they stuck with it, they persevered, they didn’t give up, they finished the race.
I think it probably takes more mental energy and even emotional strength to stay in the race when you know you are the last runner. I know I am as proud of the kid who comes in last as impressed as I am by the kid who comes in first.
Last year Erin told me the cool thing about running in the back part of the pack is that everyone helps everyone. You run together and if someone breaks away you tell them “Good job”, encouraging them as they go on ahead of you – even if you don’t know their name, even if they don’t go to your school. Oh, that we could all be like the runners at the back of the pack.
There are just so many lessons to be captured in cross country.