Withing one minute, I saw something tragic as well as something that fills me with inspiration.
Let me explain.
The other weekend, I was a spectator at my son’s track meet. It’s a long day with many races to watch. Most are pretty uneventful. I would find my attention drifting from one event to another. Paying attention to a race here, a high jump over there, long jump, etc.
After a quick schedule check I stretched and then settled into my seat.
I looked over at the track and saw the starter with the starting gun raised in the air.
The gun fired and the junior girls 100 meter final race began.
Within seconds, it was apparent that the two girls in lanes 6 & 7 were pulling away.
It was between the two of them.
The crowd in the grandstand picked up on the race and the cheers rose in a steady crescendo.
This was going to be good.
You could see that these girls knew that they were neck & neck. The pace picked up with each meter. The strain on their faces showed that they both wanted to win this race.
Passing the grandstands, you could see that they were feeding off of the energy of the crowd cheering them on. Stride after stride, neither could shake the other. They knew that the other competitor was not going to back down, but neither would they.
Then it happened.
The girl in lane 7 stumbled and fell.
I watched it like a high definition movie in slow motion.
20 yards from the finish, she tripped.
It was so slight, but enough at that speed to send her off balance.
She leaned forward, legs trying to compensate.
Her legs started to take these big awkward steps, Her arms started to flail.
Although I was up in the stands, I felt as though I was watching from 5 feet away.
I could see the changes of expression on her face throughout the ordeal.
At first it she was surprised. A look on her face like “What the?!”
Then it flashed to a nervous look like “I may not win!”
Then panic… “I have to try to recover!”
Then fear…”Oh no!”
Then she crossed the point of no return. She was going down.
She put her arms down in front of her to blunt the fall, but it didn’t help. She hit the track with her arms outstretched.
Her face showed a look of complete sadness and disappointment.
She cried out in pain, then in frustration, then in just sadness.
Her eyeglasses disengaged from her head and awkwardly tumbled ahead a few feet.
As she tumbled, the other girls were passing her.
Within a few seconds, she went from vying for the win, to dead last.
This was not just a loss. This was one of those defining moments that some may carry with them for the rest of their lives.
I could almost see the worst fears materializing for this girl.
It is these moments where ‘nicknames’ may materialize.
“You really blew it on that one.”
“Hey ‘four-eyes’, couldn’t you see where you were going?”
“…pretty clumsy for a sprinter don’t you think with those arms swinging like that?”
… hopefully, you get the idea.
You know that face someone has right before they completely burst into tears? This is what I saw as she sat there.
Then, like a flash, I saw a change in her demeanor.
It was almost like she said to herself “No! This is not how I’m going to be remembered!”
She probed forward, found her glasses and put them on.
Pushing herself up, she did her best to muster up her strength and finished the final yards with as much speed and pride as she could gather.
Crossing the finish line, I saw her shoulders slump as she bend over and grabbed her knees.
Kudos to her fellow competitors. They went over to her, hugged her and congratulated her effort.
I think I know why.
I will not remember her as the girl who awkwardly fell and finished embarrassingly last.
To me, this is the girl who gave it everything she had.
She strove for excellence and went for it.
When something unexpectedly tragic happened, she mustered up the courage, got up and kept going.
That is what I hope she doesn’t forget as she moves through the next phases of her life.
I know I won’t.