Last Place In the Last Race

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I found myself in an unfamiliar place at the end of what turned out to be Maddie’s last high school cross country regional meet. A strange series of events led us to stick around to watch the last finisher in the boys race.  I’d never even witnessed the last finisher in a girls race.

Maddie, a senior now, has been running in varsity races since she was a 6th grader.  At many of those meets, she has found herself in the shadow of a high-finishing big sister.  A running joke developed between Maddie and me over the years that her success would be measured in whether she puked or not after she finished.

“If you don’t puke, you can find a ride home with somebody else.”

Where you finish isn’t as important as how hard you compete and push yourself.  When I was tied up with basketball coaching duties and unable to watch our girls run, a text update from my wife might read, “Maddie isn’t sure what place she finished, but she wants you to know that she puked after the race.”

I wasn’t always there to see every race.  But I know that Maddie always finished well, never near the rear of the pack.  And her mother and I always wanted to get to her as soon as possible after she finished because she truly did push herself to her limit in every race (even when she didn’t puke).  I realized today I didn’t have a clue what it was like for those last finishers.  I’d never stuck around to watch them cross the finish line.

This being Maddie’s last meet, there was a somber mood when she was done running.  We talked, hugged a lot, and maybe even shed some tears.  Her mother reluctantly left to try to catch big sister’s final college soccer game of the season (3 hours away).

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Maddie and two of her biggest fans (her two brother) stuck around with me to watch East Carter’s boys run.  We drifted toward the finish line to cheer for our boys team as they finished.

There was a crowd of approximately 100 people lining both sides of the homestretch, cheering wildly as the top finishers came in.  Once approximately half the runners finished, it was pretty much determined who would qualify for the state meet. The crowd shrunk quickly.

We cheered the last of the East Carter boys as they finished.  I stuck around a moment longer in a reflective mood, thinking of all the years our girls had been running, and knowing this was the last trip.  Looking up, I saw only two runners in the distance remaining on the course.  At this point I noticed that the crowd of more than 100 onlookers had dwindled to only about 6 people besides our family.

And that’s when I witnessed the coolest event of the day.  A runner from Ashland Blazer’s girls team came running back from the finish line, toward the homestretch where the handful of fans were standing.  And she was doing her best to generate excitement and support for a teammate who was still on the course.

“Come on guys, we have to go cheer for David!”

But I didn’t notice anyone following her.  What I did notice was an Ashland runner way off in the distance, far behind the next-to-last place runner.  I turned to my three kids, “we’re gonna cheer for these last two finishers.”

A middle-aged man across the course from me, who may have been walking away stopped in his tracks and asked the girl, “what’s the boy’s name?”

The theme spread quickly among those of us who remained:

Spread out and cheer for David.

Eventually the last two runners passed.

“Good job buddy.”

“Hang in there.”

“Good job David”

“Almost there, finish strong.”

Those last two runners had a nice cheering section as they finished.  They might have finished to silence if not for the actions of the young lady from Asland Blazer.  A great teammate.

The athletes that finish consistently in the front and middle of the pack…….maybe they have the advantages of higher levels of talent, self-motivation, and support/encouragement from parents..

For the athlete that finishes in the rear of the pack, there is the danger of finishing alone and discouraged.  The danger of giving up.

Today, perhaps two runners finished last because that’s exactly where their training and experience placed them.  But maybe, simply by the actions of this young lady preventing them from finishing in silence…….they will be motivated to continue on next season instead of giving up.  And maybe their training and determination will reach a new level.

For the young lady from Ashland, well done!  Thankful that our family was part of your act of encouragement.

3 thoughts on “Last Place In the Last Race

  1. Thank you Karrick for this post. I am the mom of a thirteen year old last place finisher in every XC race this season. I am the mom at the halfway mark and at the finish line, often with only a few others and his dad. I am proudly yelling for him and for his finish. What no one else knows is that the fact that my son finishes a race is a huge accomplishment, especially because he is doing so with Crohns disease. To many parents, he is probably not worth the extra minutes. For me, he is the example of overcoming, persevering, and running in spite of the final results.

    • Thanks for your comment and your story. It has taken me many years as a parent and a coach (formerly middle school basketball and youth soccer mostly) to learn to step back from focusing on my kids and wanting them to be champions, and to be on the lookout for kids who may need an extra dose of encouragement. If my youngest son decides to be a runner and I make it back to the XC world, I know I’ll be sticking around until the last runner crosses the finish line. I know it matters, and thanks for reminding me that there’s always more to the story.

  2. If you ever happen to be at an Ironman Triathlon, stay to the end of the race. They have a 17 hour cut off. Everyone stays. Its crazy. The last people come in to the biggest crowds. Its really inspiring and amazing. One year I was at one in Idaho and a guy finished with 5 min to spare (16:50). He was super exited. Jumping, pumping his fists. Just going crazy. Then the announcer said that the previous year he missed the 17 hour cut off my 1 min, but that year he had made it. I’ll never forget it.

    Its awesome that similar things are happening at the HS level also. It shows there are a lot more ‘good kids’ around than the news would suggest.

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