I am the worst athlete in the world. You probably think I’m exaggerating here, but I think I can justify it. The scene is set in 1977; I’ve been playing soccer for four years, and this year (8th grade) we have the best team in Norman. Fortunately for me, league rules stated all players had to play at least a half, so I always played exactly one half per game. It seems that some tiny town in Oklahoma decided they wanted to field a soccer team; they’d put some kids together – seven boys and two girls in 3-4 different grades – and asked our coach if they could play us so the kids could get a feel for the game. It was a massacre. Not even a full game, we won something like 25-0, and everybody on our team scored. Well, that is, everybody but me. And it wasn’t for lack of trying; our coach set up multiple plays to let me score, but I’d either miss the ball or kick it the wrong way. The one time I managed to kick it at the goal, their goalie got his only save of the day. If their coach put together a highlight reel, I’m sure I would have been in every shot. Soccer was not my first choice; I played little league for a few weeks. At the start of practice the coach would tell me to play “far right field”. I’d spend the day sitting and picking weeds, forgotten. After a few practices I quit – the last a kid with Asperger’s and trouble connecting needs is yet another reason to feel inferior.
Flash forward to college. I make some friends (nerdy friends), and finally discover that sports could be fun! I loved tennis, golf and basketball, although I was never really good at any of them. My favorite was basketball – we’d typically go to the First Baptist FLC and play pickup games with whoever showed up. It was fun, I fit in, and loved the rush of endorphins.
Until recently, my best athletic moment came from pickup basketball. Like I said, we usually played at the FLC where the competition wasn’t that great. Sometimes, though, we’d head over to the Houston Huffman center at OU where the real athletes went. That was a challenge – ex-high school players, college athletes from other sports, and other guys who put my pathetic skills to shame. One such day happened when I wasn’t expecting it, and I’d opted to wear my glasses instead of contacts that day. We got on a team which was, as usual, packed with very good players. After a few minutes it was obvious that my glasses would not stay on my face so I left them on the bench. I wasn’t able to do much – the guy guarding me was taller, faster, stronger and was on me like a glove – and anyway, I couldn’t make out much of the action. On one play, however, I managed to fake him and took off the other way, to the 3-point line. My teammate passed me the ball, I squared up and took the shot. And then – well, I couldn’t really see, but it looked like they took the ball out-of-bounds, and a teammate came to high-five me. A three pointer against good competition? It was my finest moment as an athlete! AND I DIDN’T EVEN SEE IT.
After college and especially after kids, my activity level dropped dramatically. After working hard and coming home to a wild trio of boys, I always seemed to find myself too mentally exhausted to play sports. Slowly, I began to atrophy. I hit the highest weight in my life. One poignant moment, I was downstairs watching TV and the kids started to fight upstairs. I ran up immediately to handle the situation, opened my mouth to yell at them, and found all I could do was huff. It was obvious that I needed to do something.
So I ran. My first time I could barely go a half-mile. I ended up doing two miles, walking about two-thirds of it. I kept at it, working up to 3 miles in a few months. My sister-in-law Danielle and her husband John encouraged me to go to organized runs; I ended up setting a goal for the 2008 OKC Memorial marathon. I got my brothers to agree to run with me in the half, trained for three months, and promptly injured myself a week before the run. I was disappointed, but set a goal to run the Cowtown in Fort Worth the next year. When we finished they mentioned that if we did five in a row, the medals would fit together to form a Texas star on a plaque. My brother and I vowed at that moment to do five, and today, we did it! It’s a great feeling.
It has been such a great journey. I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted – I thought by now I’d have done a full marathon, I wanted to get my time under 2 hours (2:05 was my best), I wanted to do more runs in other cities. I haven’t done the first or second, and never ran more than 9 miles anywhere else. But there have been great benefits. I’ve been in a constant state of “needing to stay in shape”. I’ve found myself running in the heat, rain and snow because I knew I needed to if I wanted to stay in shape. Five years is a long time to stay dedicated. I’ve wanted to quit more than a few times. But the thought of collecting all those silly medals kept me going.
Better than that, though, have been the moments I’ve shared with family. My middle son ran the second with me. Paul’s wife Alissa and our brother Jeff ran with us the fourth year. That same year, my 69-year-old father also ran his very first half marathon. Those were great moments to share, and I’m glad for my part in encouraging them to participate.
I know that some people probably think that my proud accomplishment isn’t worth a hill of beans, but you know what? This is MY hill, and these are MY beans. I’ll look at my silly medals on the plaque hanging on my wall, and be encouraged that I actually pulled it off. I’ve never been good at finishing things; I make promises to myself that I never follow up on. I’m scattered and unfocused and change priorities. It’s good to know that I can stick to something for a long time, dedicate myself to finishing it, and pull through even when I grow less interested in it.
For now, I’m not planning on doing anymore long runs. I find that the longest distance I actually enjoy is a 10K, so I’m sticking to 7 miles or less in the future. Life does throw you curveballs every now and then, though. As I was stating my intention to never run another Cowtown, my youngest son walked in and said “I think I’d like to do it next year”. Sigh, no way I’d let him do it without me. I know that if he committed, Matt probably would as well. And if I keep running, who knows? Maybe Chad and Jennifer will join me someday. That is certainly an image worth working for.
And, you know, I’m really stupid that way.