Running Isn’t Special

Happy Day After Day After Mothers Day! I love Mothers Day because it feels like a Birth Day Birthday, which is fun to say, and I can say things to Henry like, “It is Mothers Day and so there will be no references to butts.” And he actually complies. I get to eat pancakes for lunch and pocket “coupons” for services such as “laundry“– from a boy who doesn’t know where the washing machine is.

Now I’m back to full-press mom duty, which today meant a volunteer gig for field day at Henry’s school. I don’t get to volunteer as much as I’d like, but this is my second year at field day. The reason I pick field day is not because I loved it as a kid or because I want to evangelize for running races. I pick field day because I hated field day as a kid. I always asked my mom to schedule dentist (and later, orthodontist) appointments on field day, lest I become a casualty to the annual rite of my peers’ amassing of ribbons at my expense. In other words, I always lost, and in my day, you didn’t just lose—you were a loser. I always lost, but I can’t even say I was the slowest girl in class, which is at least a distinction, like a hereditary affliction you can’t be blamed for. No, I was always the second slowest, or on a good day, the third slowest. Until I was 21, I hated running and racing of any kind.

That meant I would be a victim on field day in the most Darwinian sense. I was not the fittest, and therefore, I would not survive to count my ribbons. Field day, as I knew it, was designed for the physically gifted, a people who, frankly, did not need help being celebrated in the social strata of elementary school. If there had been a day for competitive reading, I would have been able to sew a quilt from all my ribbons. Sadly, the school administration thought it better to create a formal mechanism for reinforcing our own categories of winners and losers.

So that’s why I volunteer at field day—not for the glory of athletic competition, but for the kids who wouldn’t have gotten any ribbons at my school. I can identify with those kids, even though I’ve become an athlete and achieved tough running goals. My own kid doesn’t thrive on running or racing. Actually, he doesn’t like running at all. He can happily bike 13 miles, but running holds no appeal for him, which is hard for me, even though I hated it, too, when I was 8. He’s more likely to gravitate toward shot put. Or competitive reading.

I tried to get him into running. We’ve done a few 1-mile races together, and we’ve been going back and forth on a 5k this weekend. I knew he didn’t want to do it, but he insisted he wanted to be with two boys he knows, athletic boys who love racing and probably collect ribbons with alacrity. I had visions of social disaster in this 5k scenario. So yesterday, I said, “The 5k is this weekend. Are you excited?”

Silence. Frozen face.

“It’s this weekend?” he asked.

“Yeah…. You know, you don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I can really go either way about it.”

“But aren’t you running it?”

“Nah,” I said. “I’ll run it with you if you want to do it, but I don’t mind if you’d rather not.”

“Really? Aren’t the other boys doing it?” he asked.

“Yeah, but it’s their thing. It’s okay if running isn’t your thing. You have other things, like biking and reading. You read 16,000 pages when you were 7. You’re about to publish your first story in a magazine. I don’t know any other kids who could do that.”


“Running isn’t special, Henry. Races aren’t that big a deal. Some people love running, some people don’t. The big deal is working hard at the thing that’s special to you.”

“I don’t think I want to do it,” he said.

“Good by me.”

And that’s why I volunteer at field day, where the gym teacher, Mrs. Frost, gave us one simple directive: “Don’t let them cry, and make them have fun.” Every station was geared towards teamwork, sport for the sake of enjoyment, not winners and losers. There were no ribbons. It’s important for kids to learn how to lose, but it’s not important that kids feel miserable in the process. Losing is one thing; they shouldn’t feel like losers. At field day, it was easy to pick out the athletes and the non-athletes, but it didn’t seem to matter. At least not in the scooter relays.

At one point, I walked over to a kid who was about to take his turn on the scooter, and he asked, “Do I have weird DNA?”

“You look pretty awesome to me,” I said. And off he scooted, happily. Running isn’t special. Scooters, however, rule.



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4 responses

  1. That gave me chills. I too hated field day. My kids love it. Not because of winning or losing– everyone gets a ribbon–but for some reason they think it’s fun. Maybe we’re doing something right.

  2. Your post is very timely for me. My almost 13 year old went out for track this year and has struggled with it – he loves the “fun” meets, but not so much the practices. I try to encourage him to try things like running, but I suspect it’s not his thing either. I was never athletic as a child and only started running a little over a year ago at age 43. He may turn into an athlete someday, but for now I’m happy to encourage him in what he loves to do. I love your sentiment “The big deal is working hard at the thing that’s special to you.” Nice job Mom!

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