A runner’s tale: A small gesture in middle school leaves a lasting impression in adulthood
I consider myself a runner for most of my life. My dream as a kid was to go to the Olympics for running, just as the boys in my town wanted to make the NHL. I played lots of soccer when I was a kid and the position I played was right midfield. Why? Because I liked to run. My earliest memories are running on the cross country team in grade two. I wore many skirts to school and on practice day I had to change at lunch time into shorts. As a shy kid this became very stressful and I started to hate wearing dresses and skirts to school. I was scared I would miss the practice. Besides they got in the way of tag, 4 square and other silly children’s games.
It wasn’t until grade six that I thought I would become a bit more serious with my running career! So I joined the Ottawa Lions Track and Field club at the start of grade 6. A free month to try it out first. This was my decision and I gave it a shot. It would prove to be a dark and lonely month. The group was small and the girls were older. Mostly grade eights. Practice started after dinner and would finish in darkness. We were in cross country season and this meant running all over Mooney’s bay which consisted of grassy hills and sandy beaches. Being the youngest I was also the least experienced and the slowest. I remember feeling so lonely and scared as I would be left behind in the dark. This was not fun! Though the girls where not mean to me they talked about older things like boys and parties. I was scared to compete in my age group at the school cross country meet that fall. I had been last in all of the practices and felt for the first time a decrease in confidence.
But, this added training and pushing to stay up with the older girls would pay off in my school age group. I would move up 30 or so spots from the year before. We started the race and a bunch of girls took off. One of the girls from another school took off and never looked back. I remember passing girls one by one and feeling strong and my confidence began to return as I realized I had a shot for top spot. But then something happened something more important then eventually placing second.
As I continued to pass these girls I came across two or three girls from another team who where running across the trail. I could not pass them as they purposely continued to run in front of me and laughed at me when ever I tried. A sudden panic filled myself as there was no way I would get past these girls. I felt defeated. All those lonely dark practices seemed for nothing. I was shy and avoided confrontation at all cost even if it meant not placing. A teammate had witnessed my predicament. She was not a shy kid, she had lots of friends, seemed confident and wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself. She was popular and I didn’t know if she liked me. She seemed older then me as I was still secretly playing with barbie dolls. All these things intimidated me in a awkward pre teen kind of way. Of course this was my grade 6 perception at the time.
But, something happens with sport. Something amazing. People come together and work together no matter if you are friends or not. No matter if its a team sport or an individual sport. This was something that was missing with my competitive club. Team mates bring out the best in each other.
She stood up for me and told those girls that they better get out of my way. And they did. Something I couldn’t do in my shy self but she did for me. I’ll never forget that moment in time. We never hung out together or became good friends, but I always appreciated what she did for me. Middle school can be a difficult time. It’s an influential time that can imprint lasting memories. This small gesture brought a little more confidence in my grade six self, in team mates and a lasting impression of gratitude in adulthood. She probably doesn’t even know this or remembers this but I thank her for the kindness she showed that day.
Shortly after the race I quit the competitive running team even though I knew that training made me a faster runner, a runner that could place in the top 3. I would join again 6 years later. Running wasn’t about winning or placing for me, it was about having fun. I needed a supportive environment like my school teammates. In my 11 year old head it was hard to give up and quit but I wanted to laugh and be a kid. I continued to have fun on the school running team and spent the next 6 years playing competitive soccer instead. But this time with a supportive, fun and loving team running all over the soccer pitch.