Tag Archives: track and field

Life in the Outside Lane

Anyone with track and field experience knows that the 400 meters is a brutal, gut-wrenching, death sprint, and those same people know that the absolute worst draw is the outside lane, that lonely place where the only sounds one hears after the starter’s gunfire are screaming lungs and the invisible footsteps of your competitors—invisible until that terrible moment when they enter your peripheral vision stage left and you realize all is lost.

Which is why South African Wayde Van Niekirk’s world record in the Rio Olympics is so remarkable: his shocking destruction of the seventeen-year-old record occurred in lane eight.  Afterward, ESPN.com quoted the new world-record holder as saying, “I was running blind all the way . . . and it gave me motivation to keep on pushing.”

Last week, I told an auditorium full of new law students that law school is designed to be run from Lane One where you keep an eye on all your competitors, um, I mean, colleagues, and constantly compare yourself to them.  I encouraged them to do law school in Lane Eight, and who knows, they might set a world record, too.

Sometimes law school is a lot like life.  I say give life in the outside lane a shot and see if you  find in the loneliness some “motivation to keep on pushing” toward accomplishments previously beyond anyone’s imagination.

Race

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Go see “Race.” The critics apparently do not think it is the greatest movie in the history of movies, but the story of Jesse Owens is one of the greatest stories in the history of stories, so there. But be prepared. American race relations in the 1930s is not fun to watch, and then you encounter Nazi Germany. It is a tough, hard, heroic story well worth the price of admission, not to mention the attention of your heart.

I traveled to northern Alabama in June 2007 to speak at a church that had supported our church during Hurricane Katrina, and while there, noticed that the Jesse Owens Memorial Park & Museum was nearby. I had to go. Jesse, a grandson of slaves, was born into a family of sharecroppers in tiny Oakville, Alabama, and the museum grounds contains a replica of his childhood home. Mr. & Mrs. Owens had nine children in that tiny house, and the children had no beds. Eventually, the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, where life was bad, but better, and it was there that Jesse’s spectacular high school track and field performances catapulted him on to the world stage where he forever defied Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy.

This picture is my personal favorite from the museum (and my favorite scene in the movie):

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The friendship that formed between blond-haired, blue-eyed Luz Long from Nazi Germany and African-American, Jesse Owens, from the United States in the long jump competition at the Olympic Games stands as a testament of hope for the world.

An article on ESPN.com shared the following quote from Owens: “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”

Eighty years after the 1936 Olympic Games, the world sure seems to remain a mess. But there is hope. There is always hope. And it begins when people defy social expectations and form the most unlikely friendships.

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