Thursday, October 6, 2011

The radical race-off

It was better than I could have ever imagined. Two teammates on the track, racing each other round and round. For a dozen laps and then some they battled it out. Each held the lead from time to time. In the end, only one could prevail. But as the watch clicked off the last second and before they could catch their breath, there they were, both hands on the others shoulders, heads bowed, spontaneously praying to God in thanksgiving for the opportunity to run and compete. It was a beautiful thing.

All this came about because I could not make a decision. With a pending meet involving an overnight stay, my roster was confined to a slim seven men and seven women. I poured over the season's result thus far, hoping the names of the chosen few would leap from the page and be written on the wall. Some of the selections were obvious. However, it was the last spot on the men's side that robbed me of sleep for several nights. The two young men were as even as you can get. I looked at every possible marker to no avail. I honestly could not decide who to take.

Ryan Lloyd (blue shirt)
I held a coaches' conference yesterday as we put in some miles at practice. "Why don't you have a run-off?" suggested my assistant. Simple but brilliant. Why didn't I think of that? So it was decided. A 5K race today on the track would decide who needed to pack a suitcase.

Though the boys were informed yesterday, I let the team in on what would happen today. The majority groaned because they knew the gut-wrenching effort it would take, no one wishing they were the ones stepping to the line.

D'Nard Ward in a recent race
As the team started in on their prescribed workout of repeat 1600s, D'Nard, a senior, and Ryan, an enthusiastic sophomore, warmed up their bodies and their competitive spirits. Both were obviously nervous, both anxious to settle the matter. I did not envy them. So it was mixed feelings that I led them as sheep to the slaughter to the start line across the way. "I'm proud of both you guys. Race well." I offered.

Just then, Trey, a team captain, stopped his workout to gather them in a circle of three to pray. "Dear God, thank you for this beautiful day. I pray that you will help these guys race safely and may the best man win. And help the one who loses to be alright with it. . ." I was blessed by the spontaneity of the petition, offered in the normal course of events and without hesitation.

But now it was time. "Go," I commanded, mashing the start button on my watch. They were off, Ryan taking the early lead. He knew he had to hold D'Nard at bay, not having as strong a kick as the sprinter-turned distance runner. A small crowd watched the race unfold, the lead shifting from time to time. They were both on record pace. As the lap count mounted, D'Nard surged ahead, holding the lead. Ryan never gave up, struggling to maintain contact. But alas, he could not. D'Nard crossed the line in 20:20 with Ryan following at 20:40, a personal best for both.

The aftermath could have been ugly but it was not. Still gasping for precious breath, they shook hands and congratulated one another. D'Nard did not gloat. Ryan did not mope. They met off to the side as a band of brothers, approaching their Father in thanksgiving. Did they settle the matter of who would travel next week? Yes. Yet that decision which was removed from my hands pales in light of the quality of character that we all witnessed. To be sure, I was so proud of their runs. But getting a glimpse into the depth of their souls was priceless. Thank God for such fine young men. Thank God he gave them to me to coach.


UltraBrad said...

Thank you for sharing that story!

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

My pleasure. I knew I had to write about it as I watched them race.

Anonymous said...

Great Story coach T, almost brought tears to my eyes. Thank God for giving me a coach like you, that is so caring, and loves us all.

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Ah...thanks D'Nard. You are a pleasure to have around.

Rick Gray said...

I certainly understand your admiration for both young men. They deserve your special recognition. Although only one will be able to shine on race day, both are glowing in God's eyes. They did well.

Diane said...

Found you through Elaine's blog. Good article and story to share! :O)

Rebekah Trittipoe said...

Diane- So nice to meet you! Glad you dropped by. Looks like you have an interesting blog as well.

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