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The Homefront: Finishing is more important than finishing first

By D. Louise Brown - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Oct 4, 2022

D. Louise Brown

A local organization called Race Cats Track Club hosts cross country training and races for elementary- and competition-age kids. Their most recent race last weekend was a reminder that the most important part of running a race isn’t finishing first — it’s finishing.

Races don’t happen without volunteers — lots of them. My 9-year-old grandson was scheduled for a 3K race in the elementary age group, so I volunteered to help at the finish line so his mom could film him crossing the line.

Race Cats awarded ribbons to the first 15 male and 15 female runners across the line. My job was to steer the incoming boys to the right and the girls to the left so they could line up for their ribbons. When the ribbon awarder said, “OK, that’s 15” for the boys, my heart sank a little. Three runners later, my grandson flew across the line. He wasn’t happy with his results. He grumbled for a moment; I wondered if he was going to give up. But then came the strategizing. “Grandma, next time I’m going to …” He had lots of plans. Most importantly, his plans included trying again — a “next time.” That’s the beauty of racing — it’s a sport that lets you challenge and improve yourself.

Watching the runners dashing around the track brought back a long-ago memory, one centered on my youngest daughter who, despite her other three siblings growing into musicians in their own ways, struggled to identify her strength, her interest, her passion. She gamely tried piano for a while, mostly to placate me. But it just didn’t come together for her, and I let her quit what was becoming a painful weekly experience.

We tried tumbling, then ballet, then art classes — nothing clicked. Meanwhile, she goaded anyone who’d take the bait to run races with her. Sometimes I’m kind of slow to catch onto things. But one day I noticed and asked if she wanted to try running track. It was summer, and the local university hosted track training for youngsters. She was willing so I registered her. The first day of classes, we walked out onto the field and I gulped. She was one of the youngest there. And shiest. I sat on the bleachers and watched her coach teach a group of about 20 young ones the finer points of running. Nearby were other older groups in various stages of training.

As the hour session passed, I watched her passion to run overtake her shyness. She inched closer to the front in her team’s sprints, finally winning one.

At the end of the hour, in a chaotic display of running just for the joy of it, the coaches piled all the teams into one large crowd and when the starting gun went off, the mass took off in a leap around the track. I strained to see my daughter, searching for her somewhere toward the end of this mismatched pack. For a long moment I couldn’t find her.

Then I looked at the front of the pack and there she was. Not at the very front, but dashing along with the front clump, diminutive in size but somehow furiously pumping her comparatively small legs to keep up with her loping comrades. In disbelief, I watched her pass a few of them as the pack neared the finish line.

She still doesn’t play the piano, dance or paint. But she sure runs. She’s a mom now who runs with her own pack of kids. The confidence built in her running days was her steppingstone to other strengths that saw her through some pretty tough “life races” — ones that might have persuaded some to quit. But not her. She’s finished every experience she ever started.

I’ll ask her to talk to her nephew about running — and about life. She can teach him many things about both: You run your very best, and then you improve it. You push until you have nothing left, and then you find more. Often your greatest competitor is yourself. You will never win a race you don’t run. And you finish every race you start — even if you come in 18th — because then you know your next goal.

D. Louise Brown lives in Layton. She writes a biweekly column for the Standard-Examiner.

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