A Nurse with a Gun

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Heart of a Champion

"It is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required." Those words of Winston Churchill resonated with Little Darling this morning, after I gave her my "Rocky" speech. Little Darling had decided to enter a track meet a couple of weeks ago. She signed up for the 400 meter run, thinking it was half the track that ran around the football stadium.

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."

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Blogger Jerry The Geek said...

Way too kewl for a bald-headed old man.

You are my Idol, X, and "Little Darling" is my ideal.

Learning how to win will only last until you run out of lungs.

Learning how to compete will only last until you run out of legs.

But learning Heart ... will last for a lifetime.

Bless you, X, for you have given your heart to your child. That's a gift that will serve her well whatever the endeavor, whatever the odds.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Last Chance Safari Company said...

My friend, my friend, I have mentioned my eldest daughter, the "dean's list junior at Cornell University, the one who teaches snow boarding with me at Swain mountain, the one who rides rough horses, because"it's kinda fun to try to out guess them, and when they rrun they run FAST, she also was on the track team in high school... and I too was in your shoes watching her competing when those of us who think we know thought she was hopelessly outclassed(she's sitting here beside me packing for spring break- she leaves on a plane in the morning) only to find out the real meaning of "champion" - Twas my heart she tore when she was too homesick to stay at school for the first year... but she had never quit anything and was not about to start, she's still there, dean's list the last two semesters, still as close as the phone, but making her own life in this big world, I wissh you the same joy with yours that I feel with mine, and should little darling desire to learn to snowboard pack your carcass and hers on the next plane north, I'll float the lift passes and equipment and we'll spend a day or two on the slopes. thanks for sharing.

10:58 PM  
Anonymous perpster said...

Very well written and touching vignette. You have a way with words. And you have quite a daughter. I was misty eyed reading this piece.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Ambulance Driver said...

"And you, sweet girl, are a Champion and my hero."


11:50 PM  
Blogger phlegmfatale said...

Tell Little Darling for me that she has my admiration, and that she has what it takes to win the race that really matters-- the race of life. It takes special parents to instill that kind of spirit, and you should be very proud. I'm proud for you. People like your daughter are the reason there's really hope for our country. Bless her!

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visit this place nearly every day and am never disappointed.

Today my heart soars.


2:56 AM  
Anonymous Sean said...

She's my hero too.

5:40 AM  
Anonymous Drew said...

Ah, the 400 meter run, the race you love to hate. That was a great effort on her part - encourage her to keep training and she will only improve!

Thanks for being a parent who comes to show support at a meet - even if she doesn't say anything you can be sure she appreciates it.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Sailorcurt said...

My daughter is very overweight. It is a curse she has been struggling with most of her life.

When she was in high school, she decided to try to do more than just the usual dieting rollercoaster and joined Cross Country.

Basically, cross country is a 5k (approx 3 miles), generally run on an off-road course complete with hills and broken ground, not a track.

She worked very hard at it, and although she never placed, she finished every race. She never quit, she never gave up. I was (and am) so proud of her.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Just one more thing...this is a teaching opportunity as well. You can have all the desire in the world, but there is no substitute for training and practice.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

X, you sure know how to give an "old bald headed" man goosebumps...

8:21 AM  
Blogger Keith Walker said...

Nice life-lesson... and you outran her? Holy buckets, I'd be sore for week!

8:25 AM  
Anonymous bob@thenest said...

From one who has been working youth through university track and field for a while and continues to do so:

Though there are rules in sanctioned events regarding team singlets, the finish line camera doesn't care what color the singlet/jersey is.

When you step up to the Start line you agree to a contract -- you will abide by the rules AND you will do your absolute best. No exception.

Conditioned athletes can sometimes take high placement for granted, especially against lesser competition. Doesn't do much for character building when that is allowed in training.

Most of us understand and value the lower place finishers if they are honestly plugging at it and refuse to give up. We can see it from far away and we get to see it on laps as they pass by us at our positions.

The physical is temporary; character is forever.

Go for it!

10:06 AM  
Blogger George said...

Terrific story, Xavier, and written with the heart and soul of a father. To you , and Little Darling as well, all the best.

10:21 AM  
Blogger The Lizard said...

Thanks for the story. This is exactly what my dad never did for me. For him, it was win. Second place is "First loser".

I'm hoping my kids learn the same lessons. I think my daughter is on the right "track" as we take karate together. In her first sparring match, she lost quickly. The next tournament she not only won her first match, but made it to the final ignoring the fact that almost all of the others outranked her.

I can't wait to see where things go as she continues to surprise us.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for her! Not only did she compete in the first race, she stepped right up and took the challenge for the second race. She could have been content with her accomplishment, but she went the extra distance and supported her team.

This is personal to me as I was never a sports person until high school and on a whim I tried out for track. That was the best decision I ever made in high school. I did very well and learned after that to reach down inside to push myself as I never had before. My only regret is that I never had a coach who insisted I give that extra bit. I did well but in retrospect I know I could have pushed for more.

Little Darling will learn a lot from this sport and I hope she keeps at it. There's no team to hide behind, and there's no one else to blame. It's going to be her against her opponents directly. That lesson will serve her well throughout her life - when she will have to reach down for that extra bit.

More power to you for supporting her - too many dads do it half-way if at all. And bring spare batteries next time - later in life I wish I had more photos of that time.

- George

2:04 PM  
Blogger Freddyboomboom said...

I had to wipe my eyes before I could finish reading the last paragraph. Damn you for making me cry at work. Thank you for making me cry at work. :)

Tell Little Darling "Bravo Zulu!!!!" from me, and let her know that even though I haven't had a beer in several months, that I will hoist a beer in her honor tonight to celebrate her victory.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we often take criticism to be something entirely negative, something bad and degrading...but that's not necessarily true when it is used in the hands of a teacher who truly understands their students' needs, experiences and perspectives - much in the same manner as loss is made into victory. Here, sometimes what is required might not be our best, but it is all we have on a given day and we laid it down in the best manner we could present it; then, looking back we can critique the bad with the good. Your dreading her thoughts was from doubt of a lesson you had presented...inappropriately,incorrectly,too boldly, where ever it was doubt was leading from. But the lesson wasn't over....It continued on - and it a very healthy and very important way. Our confidence must come from more than our abilities. It shouldn't blind us to what will be labeled success or failure. Your daughter displayed that in running the anchor leg of the 400 because she has learned something of who she is. And for that I too stand with my fists in the air and shout for those youth of this country who are there with her in that understanding. Your legacy is in great part our hope of the future coming to fruition.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tell little darling she is an inspiration to all of us.

6:47 PM  
Blogger EE said...

The 400, I give her mad respect for even finishing that damn race.

Shoot me an email, I'll send you a few track workouts and give you a little track advice, she sounds like she might be pretty good at the 800.

1:23 AM  
Blogger EE said...


guess I sould have added that in the last comment, haha.

Oh, and you don't have to approve these comments.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Cybrludite said...

She "filled the Unforgiving Minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run", even when the outcome had already been decided. What more can you ask for? :-D Just imagine how she'll do once they manage some proper training!

3:14 AM  
Anonymous Running Ed said...

She was never outclassed. She was simply out run.

Thank you, gotta run............

8:21 AM  
Blogger Reno Sepulveda said...

My little darling turns 21 in June she just moved out to the big city to find a job and finish college. One of the last things she asked me before she took off was. "Dad where are the extra magazines for the Kimber?"
I'm losing a daughter and a pistol.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Last Chance Safari Company said...

Reno reminds me, my little darling gave me a Kimber for my birthday, and I say to him, if you had bought her one she wouldn't be taking yours, that to me is the importance of all of these foolish registration legislations, they are trying to make it harder to transfer my pile of hardware, at my demise, to my heirs.

5:31 PM  

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