Blaise was three years old when I started training for marathons. He would run around the living room and announce that he was running a marathon. Over the next couple of years, as his father and grandmother dragged him from mile marker to mile marker only to stand on the side of the road looking for mommy and catching only a quick glimpse as I ran by in the middle of the pack, he discovered just how far a marathon was. As any kid would, he began to dread the marathon days. Lucky for him Maryland has several marathons to offer the long distance runner and Grammy was always willing to let him spend the night at her house the night before the marathon and skip the mile markers and the endless boredom. Even so, by the time he was ten he asked if we could have just one vacation without a race. Destination races were the hardest because there was really no way out for him. From California to Scotland to Austria he stood waiting for mommy to cross the finish line. As he grew he showed no interest in running himself. Boring and running had become synonymous in his mind.
Then the unimaginable happened – he didn’t make the high school soccer team. Going to a school known for its athletics makes for a lot of competition. As a family we had always talked about the positive effect of athletics in your teen years but most especially high school team sports. So he joined the cross country team. He went into it knowing he would hate it. Knowing it would be the worse sport ever. For Blaise, no ball equals no fun.
The first week he walked around on tired legs and complained about being hungry every minute of every day. Everyday I heard the same complaints. It was too hot, too hard and no fun, until suddenly I didn’t hear it anymore. Suddenly I heard about other kids who needed a ride home. My car was filled with stinky, sweaty high school cross country runners, half-heartedly complaining about that day’s run. But I also heard them talking about my son being at the front of the pack, about my son running the longer distances and I realized he was enjoying himself.
The first race was at a farm donated for the event by a local parent. Through the cornfields and over the cow patties, around the barn and through the small copse of trees, six teams would compete in an official 5K cross country race. It was the first day in team uniform. The soccer players, who stood out among the crowd because of the whites at the top of there legs, complained of feeling naked in the short shorts and scanty tops. The same kids who stood beside a soccer pitch with total ease showed signs of nerves as they waited for their race to be called.
But I stood there waiting – waiting to see my son start his first long distance race. The gun sounded and the runners headed in one direction while the newbie parents followed behind the varsity parents who knew the best place to see the runners along the route. We headed to the first marker and cheered on our boys. I stood there cheering on a child who had supported my sporting efforts for years. Stood there staring in wonder at the speed he had developed. Stood there until I realized this wasn’t the last marker. I followed the veteran parents heading to the next vantage point and the next and then finally the finish line. I watched him round the barn and head into the finish. I cheered for him and noticed his speed increase as he heard my voice. I watched as he crossed the finish line and the enormity of the moment occurred to him and then I watched him do something he had done for years as he headed back out onto the course and cheered on the middle of the packers and ran back again to cheer on those who were really struggling with the course.
As a spectator, watching me all those years, he had been bored. He couldn’t feel the intensity of the race, but at that moment he saw it clearly. He knew how his voice could help carry the others over the finish line. I was proud of his time, proud that he had run such a hard race. But I was just as proud of his going back and becoming a spectator again.
Previously published in The Streak – An Annapolis Striders‘ Publication