Today I attended our school Athletics Day, which also doubles as our District Athletics selection trials. Grades 3 to 6 children compete in up to five events that they select, and the winner of each event goes on to represent our school in the District Athletics competition held each year.
This was the first year that my daughter was old enough to be involved. My son, had participated in previous years and had been selected to represent the school in high jump and triple jump in the past. Being an ‘old hand’ at it, he knew what he wanted to achieve for the day, the events he knew he was good at, and what he enjoyed doing.
My daughter on the other hand is somewhat more hesitant, and is happy to be involved in anything really. However, she’s not particularly gifted when it comes to athletics. I’m not saying she’s hopeless, because she’s not. She’s just happy to stand around and chat to her friends and ‘have a go’, when it’s her turn. She doesn’t have natural talent, and she doesn’t have a passion to improve her skills. And that’s okay, because her talents lie elsewhere. Her goal for the day was ‘to maybe win a ribbon, and not fall over’.
When she told me she had selected hurdles, I couldn’t believe it. She knew my opinion of that particular track event (and it isn’t very favourable, having had a bad experience at high school. But that’s another story).
“Why hurdles?” I asked.
“Because I like jumping,” she said. Fair enough.
It soon became clear that the grade 3 kids were going to jump the same height hurdle as the grade 6 kids. None of these ‘little’ hurdles that they used to trot out. I felt sick to my stomach.
You see, the track they were doing the hurdles on is very unforgiving. In past years, many a child has come to grief doing hurdles, limping off with patches of skin missing from various parts of their bodies. My daughter fell during the 800m on that track about 18 months prior. Not only did she end up with bandages on most parts of her body, including her chin, but there was a visit to the hospital afterwards to make sure she hadn’t broken a finger.
No wonder her goal was to ‘not fall over’.
So as time ticked by, I watched the groups of kids run their hurdles race.
Some of the kids were like gazelles. Running fast, leaping gracefully over hurdle after hurdle. It really was a beautiful thing to watch. I for one, was amazed at their courage and ability.
Then there were others who were a bit more hesitant. They’d run, get to the hurdle, slow down, psych themselves up and go over it. Sometimes they’d take the hurdle with them and sometimes they wouldn’t. There were even children who stopped and walked over them.
And then there were the poor kids who tripped and fell, and lay bleeding and broken on the track.
But the most inspiring were those who tripped, fell and picked themselves up again, only to keep going. They didn’t care that they were last. They didn’t even care that they were bleeding. They just wanted to get up and keep going.
It occurred to me that life is sort of like a hurdles race. We all have hurdles to get over. Sometimes we fly over them, hardly noticing they are there.
Sometimes we need to psych ourselves up because all we see is this barrier between us and where we need to go. However, the hesitating and psyching ourselves up is sometimes what causes us to fall and in hindsight, we’d be better to just run fast and take a leap of faith.
But other times, like those kids today, we fall. We trip and land with a thud. Sometimes the fall is brutal. We may feel like our whole body is bleeding. And the easy thing would be to just lay there and not go on.
But those who do go on, despite their ‘failings’, despite the fall and despite the embarrassment, are the ones who are the true winners. They are the ones who get the most applause and admiration. They are the ones who show us that it’s okay to fall over. They are the ones who bring tears to our eyes as they continue the race, despite the pain they are in. Despite the fear that they may fall again, and again.
For the record, my daughter’s experience of her hurdle race was a combination of the above. She flew over the first hurdle, and just missed tripping over the girl who fell in front of her. She hesitated a moment while she asked the girl if she was okay, and then continued on. She walked over the second hurdle, jumped over the third, and then tripped and fell on the fourth. I watched her, knowing that she would be hurting, yet wondering what she would do next.
She got up, looked at her knee, brushed her hands together, and kept going! She stepped over the next couple of hurdles, taking one down with her, but she finished with a smile on her face!
I was so proud of her.
When I tucked her in bed tonight, I asked her what was the hardest thing about today.
“The hurdles,” she said.
“Because I fell over and it really hurt.”
“So why did you keep going then?”
“Because I wanted to be brave. I like being brave, and when I’m brave, it helps other people be brave. Anyway, lots of people fell over today and some of them kept going, so I knew I could too.”
“Do you think you’ll do hurdles again, next time?” I asked, fully expecting an emphatic ‘no’.
“Well, maybe,” she said.
I had to ask why she would volunteer to do them again.
“Because I want to get better at them. Because if I’m better at them, I won’t be so scared of them.”
My daughter is 8. They are some wise words from an 8-year old.
So what will you do, next time you fall over your hurdle? Will you lay there and pull out of the race because you’re hurt and afraid? Or will you brush yourself off and finish the race, no matter how far behind the others you are? No matter how scared you are, to carry on?
The choice is yours.
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