On Saturday morning, I stood among some 5000 others in what they call the runners corral waiting to run a local half marathon. Trying to stay warm in near freezing temperatures, my mind wandered to the last time I had stood in a similar crowd waiting to run my first “half” over thirty years ago.
In that memory, I was a young fit law student who ran an aggressive training schedule everyday. I stood in line that sunny day in nervous anticipation, not really knowing what to expect, but focused on myself – how fast I would run, what my time might be and in what place I would finish. Typical thoughts for a young single guy. I was ready to go, ready to prove something.
To my delight, I ran faster than I expected. My time was good and I finished near the front. I was pleased and proud.
Then came exuberant cheers from a beautiful lady standing nearby. A recent acquaintance, she had come to encourage me on this bright Saturday morning. She praised me for finishing the race as we walked together. I remember her still.
My mind came back to the present. As I stood waiting for the National Anthem and the starter’s commands, this time I knew what to expect. However, I could still feel that nervous anticipation that comes with your first race. Today it came from my 21-year-old daughter standing beside me. Three months earlier she told me that she wanted to run a half marathon. She wanted to check it off her bucket list like many of her college friends. But, she knew it would be easier if she had someone to run with her for support, so she asked if I would run along. She trusted that I would run her pace and be encouraging no matter what came. As a Be There Dad, I was delighted. Still running daily, I would gladly come out of “retirement” to race with her. But, this day the focus would be on her. This race would be about her accomplishing her goal.
RIDING ROLLER COASTERS
As we waited those last few moments, we reminisced about our days riding giant roller coasters. In anticipation of ups, downs, curves and corkscrews, she was always calm and reassuring to me – the nervous one. Today our roles were reversed. I had been on this ride before. I did my best to keep her calm.
Shortly, the starter sent us on our way. Among thousands of others, we took our first of many steps together. She set a steady pace. I strode beside her, wanting only to “hold her hand” when she needed me. Together we ran. Up hills and down. Through city streets and quiet neighborhoods. We smiled at the young children holding signs and offering “free” high fives. We were energized by the musicians playing at strategic points along the way. Together we watched the mile markers go by. We took one step at a time.
Together we came around the last bend and spotted the finish line banner. We smiled at each other. Now we knew we would make it. She would finish her race. She would accomplish another goal. She would beat her target time. She would earn the right to put the “13.1” oval sticker on her car.
Together we put one more experience in our backpacks. As she grows older, the opportunity for these times together will come less frequently. Maybe this was one more lesson in determination. Perhaps it was one more reminder that sometimes you need someone to “stand by you”. I hope it was confirmation that Dad can always be that someone.
Just past the finish line, she turned and put her arms around me. Thanks for going the distance. The medal they put around my neck will never compare to the hug that got there first.
Then came exuberant cheers from a beautiful lady standing nearby. She reached out and gave her the kind of hug and kiss that only a proud mother can. This was her moment. This was her time to shine. Her smile showed it all.
I stood aside and let my daughter appreciate the moment. Then, her mother turned to me. I had earned a warm hug and kiss as well. My praise came not for finishing the race, but for supporting her daughter. She had come to expect that is what dads do. We had learned that lesson together. Years ago in Winston-Salem, this beautiful lady had praised me for running my race; today in Charlotte she praised me for running our daughter’s race.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Dripping with perspiration, I was reminded that life is not a sprint. It is a marathon [or at least a half marathon]. We start out running for ourselves, then along the way, others join us. We live our dreams and then, if we are lucky, we get to share theirs. My daughter dreamed of finishing thirteen miles. She asked me to live that dream with her. And so I did. One step at a time. Long ago, my bride and I dreamed of finishing our race together. And every day we still do. One step at a time.
As our lives unfold, the ones who love us invite us to share in their lives. Different times. Different places. Different reasons. Different races. Be There Dads find the time and courage to run with them when they ask. Up and down the hills. When the going is easy and when it is not. Nervous when we start and exuberant when we finish. One step at a time, we go together. We gather the medals, the shirts and the pictures. But, the hugs are still the best.