Posts Tagged ‘track’


The Lesson

August 12, 2011

From the very start of that track season, she came to  practice every day. I didn’t even realize it at first, only noticing later by virtue of the unusual perfect row of attendance checks. Peggy was one of the Invisible, those kids who have the quality of going unnoticed virtually anywhere. She was physically suited for the role: small, nondescript, and quiet. It seemed that she had few friends and was always to be found at the fringes of any gathering.

I first became aware of her during the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, an unfortunate reality in high school sports. Some of the girls who came out for the team were naturally fast, the speed coming effortlessly from long, powerful legs. Others were strong and athletic, characteristics suitable for throwing and jumping. As these girls tried the various events, their potential  was revealed, and a hierarchy on the depth chart was established. Peggy, however, found herself at the bottom of the list in every event she tried.

Normally in track,  making cuts is unnecessary. Biology, physical laws, and the stopwatch tended to take care of that. A natural selection of sorts would run its course, and those who realized by their results that they were not keeping up with the others would either stop showing up, opt out themselves, or offer to help in some other capacity.

But Peggy stayed. Each day she’d be out there, taking up her usual position far behind the others, something that would normally be a discouragement. However, her ordinarily passive expression would be replaced by an uncharacteristic look of fierce determination. No amount of last place finishes would deter her.  Once the season started, it was time to determine events. It was desirable to put the less successful runners in the sprints. At least then the races were mercifully short and divided into heats, so these girls could be somewhat competitive amongst themselves. But Peggy wanted to be a runner, not a sprinter, and no amount of gentle persuasion could alter her choice. I settled on putting her in the 800 meters, a two lap race that theoretically would lessen the chance of an embarrassingly large gap developing between her and the rest of the field. Even so, her greatest efforts could keep her no closer than 200 meters from the rest of the pack.

In spite of this, Peggy plugged away, never shying away from even the toughest workout or most daunting competition. I could see the other girls gaining respect for her pure determination and commitment. They began encouraging her, cheering her on through her struggling finishes.

No, this story has no fairy tale ending with Peggy winning the big race to seal the championship for the team. By the end of the season, her times barely placed her in the borderline average range. However, when measured against where she started, it was a milestone accomplishment for her. At the awards program after the season ended, the applause was rousing and heartfelt  when Peggy’s name was announced for Most Improved Player. She was nearly bursting with pride and happiness as she came up to receive her well-deserved award.

To me, this is what track, or any high school sport for that matter, is really (or should be) about. The values gained by even the lowliest members of a team are powerful and are carried through life beyond sports: the camaraderie of teammates, the feeling of being part of  something greater than yourself, and most of all, the lessons of the gains possible through simple hard work. Peggy embodied all of these, and she accomplished goals that perhaps she hadn’t even identified. And this is a wonderful thing, one that I should have known without Peggy’s reminder. Once, long ago, I was just like her.