My childhood included an unhealthy obsession with sports and since my high school offered only two sports for male students it went without saying that I would participate in both. High school basketball ruled our corner of Arkansas, not unlike the movie Hoosiers, so my standard year consisted of ten months basketball and two months track and field.
Track and field created a personal dilemma. First, I was slow. That turned out to be unhelpful in a footrace. Second, I could not jump, which ruled out the high jump, long jump, pole vault, and hurdle races. Third, I was weak. No discus or shot put for me. One option remained for actual participation on the team: running for long periods of time. That was my in. It was convenient that no one with actual athletic ability wanted to do this at the time.
Distance running engaged two personal strengths: physical and mental endurance. A bonus was the ability to tolerate boredom; my years of playing games alone in the backyard proved advantageous. In the end, given the small schools we competed against and the fact that most real athletes played baseball instead, I was pretty good. I won races at several meets and held my own as a general rule.
But all good things must come to an end. My high school athletic career had to come to an end, too. As fate and the calendar would have it, it would not end on a basketball court but at a state track meet shortly before graduation. I qualified to run the mile and quickly realized that all of my blood, sweat, and tears would end with four laps around a track. I pondered this deeply and decided that I would go out leaving everything on the track that day—energy, effort, lunch, whatever else—and that surely there would be a movie made about my gutsy performance. Tom Cruise was probably too short to take the part, but someone equally awesome would.
Here is what actually happened: I ran hard for three and a half of the four laps and was comfortably in sixth place (which would earn a ribbon and one point for my team), and I was hurting. As I approached the final turn, a sneak peek over my shoulder revealed that seventh place was hopelessly behind me and a look ahead revealed that fifth place was unattainable. So, I abandoned my last, gutsy, movie-invoking performance and coasted to the finish line.
It is a disappointing story. Three decades later, I am not sure what happened to my ribbon, but I do remember that I am disappointed in myself for not finishing strong.
There is a time to coast and for everything else under the sun, but the time to coast is not when you have your heart set on finishing strong. Once you set your heart and the race is on, don’t look behind, don’t look ahead, and don’t focus on the difficulty of the task; instead, look in your heart and look to the sky and find the strength to give it your all to the very end.
There may not be a movie, but you will know that there ought to be, and that is enough.