Life Lifter: What Two High School Buddies Taught Us About Racing
There's a story in the August issue of Runner's World
about two high-school seniors that makes me feel glad that not every runner is like I was at their age. It's about two old friends, Mack and Cameron, who race cross-country and track together. They're unusual because Cameron has cerebral palsy, so Mack has to push him in a wheelchair. Mack, one of his school's top ten runners, says he encouraged Cameron to join the team during their junior year because "he knew his friend was often bored after school, thought he'd enjoy trying something new." (From this photo, it looks like Mack's hunch was right on
). When Mack pushes his childhood friend in a race, he breaks rules that mean he's ineligible to earn points. However, the coach agreed to Mack's plan because he believes that the duo brings more than points to the team.
I wish these friends had been on my cross-country team. It was a small group, and one of my teammates had the name of a cheerleader--and the hunched shoulders and whispery voice of a mathlete. I thought that Buffy needed a nickname that better suited her tentative personality. So I gave her one. My best friend and I always referred to her as Myrtle behind her back. Myrtle had a funky, shuffly gait and breathed heavily.
Myrtle had goals, and one of them was to speed up. The other, I believed, was to beat me. She lifted weights and ran extra laps after practice, and before long, I stopped laughing when I said, "Old Murt was tough to shake today." In races, Myrtle and I were often neck and neck.
After one big meet during my senior year, when I was begrudgingly complimenting Myrtle on her speedy finish, she broke into a little skip and a huge grin. Then she showed me these special arm exercises she'd been doing, and encouraged me to give them a try. She didn't seem smug (as I would have been) and she definitely didn't seem to guard this proprietary arm-swing secret that she believed propelled her to the finish (as I would have).
Years later, it occurred to me that when Myrtle breathed down my neck, she was following our coach's orders to keep the pack tight. While I was racing Myrtle, she was racing the other team. Old Murt tried to teach me about sportsmanship, but I didn't realize it at the time.
It thrills me to hear that students like Mack and his teammates in Utah are learning about sportsmanship when it matters -- and teaching others.
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