Monday, July 2, 2018

Dear Sons: Don't Give Up

Dear Sons:

(Letter #28)

Who do you admire?

Who's the first person you think of?

A lot of people probably turn to celebrities. Those with talent. Those with a lot of money that has come from that talent.

Maybe a scholar? Someone who has spent years learning about their area of interest and working to teach others. Someone who has used much of their time in life becoming more educated.

A philanthropist? Someone who has had the good fortune and blessing of being financially stable and uses that gift to do good where they see a need.

Perhaps someone in your family or community that you look up to because you see that they care about the world around them and are trying to make it a better place.

Today I saw someone who I would put within my top five people that I admire. I'll tell you a little more about him in a minute.

If you ask kids who they admire, a lot of them may name athletes.

As a young kid, I really kind of despised athletics. It was because I was really, really bad at pretty much any sport. I was a short, frail little girl. I had no strength. I had no speed. And really I had no desire to try because I didn't think I'd ever be good at anything related to sports. I was envious and jealous of those who were good athletes because it looked so effortless and I didn't think they even had to work at all to be good.

I was literally the worst athlete in my class in school. I mean that. I was pretty much ALWAYS the last kid picked to be on a team in gym class. Sometimes I was next to last. And when I was I actually had a little confidence and did work a little harder. But 9 times out of 10, I was the the last kid picked. No one wanted me on their team. I would drag the team down and make them less likely to win. Gym class was such a dreaded part of my day. I'd get full of such anxiety before gym. I'd try my hardest to find a way to get out of it. Offer to help a teacher put books on shelf instead of going to gym. I'd ask for a pass to the bathroom or the library and waste as much time as I could. I'd conveniently forget my gym uniform or "accidentally" soak my shoes in mud at recess so that I couldn't use them on the shiny gym floor. I would do anything to avoid gym class.

I grew up wondering what the heck was wrong with me. How could I be such a terrible athlete? I had siblings who were athletic. My brothers were great athletes - no matter what the sport was. Basketball. Golf. Tennis. Baseball. Track. One brother was an outstanding baseball player who was scouted to play in the minor leagues. Another helped lead his high school relay team to state and they broke a national record. My dad talked about playing football and basketball and baseball as a youth and in high school.

To me, as I was in elementary school and junior high being a good athlete equated to popularity. All the popular kids were good athletes. They were the ones who always got those presidential fitness awards while I struggled just to finish the mile or whatever we were being evaluated on. That handful of kids that were always picked last for the teams in gym class - not popular. I hated being born with such poor athletic skills. And I really believed that 99% of my problems would disappear if I got picked first instead of last.

In my 7, 9, 12-year old mind I really resented people who got athletic scholarships. I thought that it was good genes that made you a good athlete and not that it had anything to do with work. They were just lucky, I thought. Why would someone get rewarded for being lucky.

Finally once I got into adulthood, I realized how much good athletes push themselves and work toward their goals. They sacrifice their time to improve. They sometimes sacrifice their health in pushing too much or in playing a dangerous sport. They may have been born with good genes and had an advantage over others because of their build, but they didn't get to where they are because of luck.

Today, I look at athletes and see the hard work and structure and grit that it takes to be a good athlete. I admire those who aren't natural athletes, but do it anyway and have the discipline to go for that run or swim that lap or do that workout. I know how now how essential physical activity is to good health, whether you are good at exercise or sports or not. And I've felt satisfaction of setting a physical goal and reaching it - or at least making yourself work toward it. When you grow up and it doesn't feel like competition all the time and you're not afraid of being ridiculed of for striking out or missing a basket or dropping a ball, it can be really enjoyable. I know now that I was so wrong in thinking athletes had it easy and I'm ashamed of thinking the way I did as a kid.

One of my most admired people today is Anthony Rizzo. He is from my very favorite baseball team, but that's not why I like him so much. Obviously he is a star player as a first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. His dedication to the game and his hard work toward improving himself is admirable. But there's much more to him. He's a good teammate and a good person off the field. He had cancer in his teens and from that experience he has played a big role in raising funds for cancer research and cancer-related charities, he visits sick kids in hospitals and he listens to stories of those who have been in his shoes and offers them words of encouragement and support. He's totally worthy of admiration for what he does in many parts of his professional and personal life.

So let me get back to that person I saw today that is right at the top of my list of people I admire.

I was dropping one of you off this morning for cross country practice and saw a kid that I watched during the last season. He doesn't happen to have an athletic build and natural strength or endurance that makes running easier for him than a lot of others. He struggles at it. You can see it as you watch him.

He didn't win any of the races last year. He didn't come in as one of the top 3. Or the top 10. He didn't place in the top half of the runners. He was always in that last bunch. He actually came in last in many of the races. I remember being at meets where the course was laid out in a loop and because it's a 3-mile race, you'd run the loop three times. Sometimes the top runner would be coming in for a finish and this young man was still on lap 2. Sometimes the flags were being taken down and the course was being dismantled as he still had a mile to go.

If I was in a race and on lap 2 of 3 and people were rushing by me at the finish line, I wouldn't even bother doing the last lap. I'd most likely quit right there. But this kid never did. He knew he was going to be one of the last runners to finish.

He never gave up. He knew he would probably be the last one on the team to finish the race, but he always kept going and finished the race. I don't think I would have. I would have given up and not even finished the race. I probably would have given up and not finished the season. I would have gotten discouraged and not seen a point in continuing to run and continuing to race and continuing to come in last or close to it every time.

I left some of those meets and sat in my car and cried because I was just in awe of this kid.

The team is made up some really wonderful kids. Some have natural athletic talent and they look like they are breezing by without trying, even though you know it is a HUGE effort to run a race even if it's a little easier for you than for the next guy. They are all to be admired in my book. But you know what? I left a lot of meets where I couldn't tell you who had come in first. But I could tell you who came in last. Because I always watched until the end and rooted for him and was ecstatic to see him finish. And it was cool to watch how he improved from he start of the season to the end. His teammates cheered him on as he continued. They gave high-fives and fist bumps after he finished. I held back tears when he'd cross the finish line.

So, this kid is at the top of my list of people I admire. There's so many lessons in what he does and how he carries himself and how the team and the coach support him. My biggest take away from it all is how he doesn't give up. He knows he'll never be the best runner on the team and he runs anyway. He knows it will always be hard, but he does it anyway. He's resilient. He keeps going. He pushes through when it's tough and it's raining and it's cold and he's the only one left on the course. He never gives up. I don't know many things more admirable that that.