Lately, I have found myself questioning the marathon. Why do I bother? I may be getting faster but I have still not broken four hours and even after I finally I do, I still have ten minutes to cut in order to qualify for Boston. Boston has always been my aim and if that isn’t going to happen, maybe I should just hang up my shoes. Why should I keep putting myself through the stress of training?
This weekend, I found my answer. For three years my daughter and I have made an hour long drive to Olympic Development soccer tryouts. Over the years, Meg has put every ounce of herself into the tryouts only to be cut on the third day. This year as tryouts approached, I found myself dragging my feet. I knew the registration was open and I was well aware that she would want to tryout. But personally I dreaded it. It wasn’t the two hours spent in the car each day or the hour and a half spent standing in the cold watching my daughter play her heart out. It was the disappointment I have witnessed as she looked carefully through the call back numbers and didn’t see hers. It was the look on her face the next time she was on a soccer pitch. A look that told me she wondered whether she was good enough to play at all. There was a part of me that hoped she would change her mind. She would decide not to go. She would not have to face the disappointment again.
Still, as the day approached, she made her way to the computer and found the tryout times. She told her club coach she wouldn’t be at practices because she would be at ODP tryouts. And she made it clear to me that it was important to her. As in years past, everyone showed their confidence in her. “This is the year, girl. This is the year you make the team.” And I cringed as I wondered how high up they would push her and how much harder that would make the fall at the end.
But this is her dream. She believes she will play on the US Women’s Soccer team. It is all she wants. If you ask a hundred people who know her what her favorite thing in the world is, you will get only one answer, “Soccer.” The walls of her room are covered in soccer posters. She dresses for soccer every day, whether she has practice or not, just in case the opportunity to play should arise. She spends hours of her week thinking of new plays for her team or new moves she might try.
I sat in my warm car on Sunday afternoon and watched out the windshield as Meg ran across the field in pouring rain and thirty five degree temperatures. I watched as she hopped up and down before the scrimmages began, trying to stay warm, as she used every move she has ever been taught on the soccer pitch, as she offered a hand to the player who fell in the middle of play and even as she stayed on the pitch juggling the ball and practicing her moves during the water breaks. I watched her playing and realized that that is what it is that she loves – the playing. When she arrived back in my car every layer of clothing was soaked through, but she had a smile bigger than the Cheshire cat’s. She had had a blast. I asked how she played. She didn’t answer with her thoughts on her chances. Instead, she told me about the rain and the girls, the coaches and the goals.
Today was the last day of open tryouts. The cut sheet will go up later this evening and my heart is in my throat as I wait. Megan keeps checking the computer screen in hopes that this will be her year. I hope beyond hope that she will make it but tonight I know that it doesn’t matter. If she doesn’t make it she will be back next year and the one after that, if that is what it takes. I realized while watching this beautiful girl playing in the freezing rain that it isn’t just about a dream to make the Olympic Team. It isn’t just about the chance to see if she is good enough. It is about the moments on the field, every moment on the field. It is about the joy of the game.
As a mom, there are hundreds of lessons I try to teach my children. Once in a while though, the shoe is on the other foot. Seeing Meg’s love for the game, with or without the outcome she hopes for, reminds me of why it is I go out there. Why it is that after twelve marathons without qualifying for Boston, I still find myself at the starting line each year. Watching Meg has helped me to recognize the love I hold for my sport. So, yes, I will sign up for the next marathon. Maybe I will qualify for Boston this time, maybe I won’t, but now I know, it really doesn’t matter. I love to run. That is why I do it. The rest is just icing on the cake.