The Heart of a Champion
Little Darling had fallen in love with running last year when she saw that she could out pace every girl, and almost every boy in her class. The one boy who could keep up with her became her friend, but her parochial school still did not have a track team. Two weeks ago, at a parent/faculty meeting, it became apparent that some well heeled parents, upset over the six man football team, were prepared to pull their children out of school the following year due to the lack of sports. Suddenly, a track team was thrown together and the accidental coach entered them into a track meet. Little Darling was ecstatic.
Each day after school, we rode our bikes to the stadium to prepare. I coached her, telling her that she only had to beat one person.......the person in front. I instructed her to stay on that person's heels, to put pressure on them, to wear them out. I instructed her to not try to pass them, to hold a reserve of strength until she entered the home stretch. Then, I told her.......smoke 'em. She really did not get the picture, so last night, to illustrate what I meant by holding a reserve I ran against her. I let her lead for most of the race. I had to. I had not run in years. I stayed on her heels though, and when I felt I could finish, I reached down into that pit of strength that is reserved for old bald headed men and I showed her the folly of staying out in front. It's not, I told her, who starts in front, but rather who finishes in front. I hurt all day today from that lesson.
Still, when I got off work, I headed to the track meet. The rag tag group of Episcopal girls had to share jerseys, swapping them out between heats. They were competing against three schools with established track teams. The relays were especially telling, with the other teams handing off the batons like professionals, while the Episcopal girls passed the baton like notes in class. When Little Darling found me, she told me the 400 meter was not half the track, but an entire lap. She had solved the problem though, by transferring over to the 200 meter dash.
As I sat in the stands, I tested my camera. Dead batteries.....Damn. I did not let her know. I pulled out my cell phone. Little Darling lined up against five lanky but conditioned girls. They wore their school colors. Little Darling could not get one of her friends to give up a communal jersey, so she wore her school uniform shirt. With a shot from a starter's pistol, they were off. The lead two girls quickly out paced the rest. Obvious training was their forte. They ran like cats pursued by wolves. There was no catching them. Little Darling came in fourth.
I stayed in the stands, dreading her thoughts. Had I hurt her this morning, with my talk of winning against a stacked deck of cards? Would she think I was disappointed? Angry even? Thankfully, I had gotten a photo with my cell phone. Yet, she did not leave the field. She stayed at the runner's benches.
Finally, it was time for the last event, the girls 400 meter relay. I saw Little Darling put on a blue jersey. She had never run 400 meters. Oh my Gawd. The first wave was off and running with a bang from the starter's pistol, and again, the Episcopal girls were quickly out classed. After each lap and baton exchange, they were left farther and farther behind. Finally, as the fourth and last relay runner, Little Darling entered the lanes. When she accepted the baton, she was a quarter lap behind the girl in front of her. She took off like I had never seen her run. I was standing, cheering, fists in the air. Please God.........Just let her finish. Don't let my girl run out of gas. Don't let her give out. Just let her go the distance.......She was running back to back races. She was the anchor. She had never before run this distance.
The winner finished as Little Darling entered the back stretch. I looked to see my girl keeping her pace, gathering speed. Hang on Darling......Hang on.......Keep coming.......Her stride lengthened. She rounded the corner red faced, her hair a blur behind her. And then........She opened the throttle. She poured on the gas. She lit the fires of desire and reached down to that place that all Champions possess. When she could breathe no more, she stopped breathing. But she kept running. Faster.....Faster.......Ever faster to what she thought was the finish line, dead last. She saw and heard her friends cheering, and she slowed and stopped. The finish line.......Was five strides away. Crap! She took off again and leaped across it.
She was a bit upset with herself when she came walking up to me, unsure of what Daddy's response would be. She told me the girl who was supposed to run the relay had left early. Someone had to run it. She had come in last. She thought she had failed.
No. Darling, this morning, we talked about winning races and champions. We talked about coming from behind and smoking the competition. We talked about confidence and desire. We talked about Rocky and going the distance. Darling, I am here to tell you that you did win. You are a winner. You did not just do your best, you did so much more. You did what was required.........And that, my dear, is what is in the heart of a Champion. And you, sweet girl, are a Champion and my hero.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."