A number of years ago when my daughter Ellen was running high school cross-country, occasionally I assisted Coach Moore, the cross-country coach, with cross-country meets. Up until recently, the school year for students in South Carolina started in early August. If you have ever been in South Carolina in the summer you know that there is nothing more miserable than the heat of an August afternoon. The temperature is typically in the mid 90’s, with very high humidity and absolutely no wind. About 3:30 each afternoon, the boys and girls of the high school track team dress out and begin training in the stifling heat for their five kilometer cross-country meets.
One of the things that always surprised me was the number of overweight students that turn out to train for cross-country. For most of these students the heat, stress, and the temperature take their toll causing them to drop out early in the season. At the same time, the August heat does not really faze the more seasoned athletes who train all year. As you would expect as the season progresses, the runners’ times improve and temperatures get much milder as fall approaches.
The event that I want to share happened at a cross-country meet held at Irmo High School in late autumn. There was a chill in the air and it was unseasonably cool for South Carolina in the fall. Before the race, others and I assisted the coach in setting up the lane. If you are not familiar with cross-country races, the lane is a flagged off area that funnels the incoming runners to the finish line where they are timed. The meet was held behind the school in a large field lighted with bright stadium lighting. This was the area where the lane was set up and the runners completed their run.
As I recall, even though the meet was exciting, the evening was uneventful. The meet ended in the typical way. The seasoned runners from both schools finished way ahead of the pack. The slower runners straggled in. Once across the finish line, the runners struggled to catch their breath, grabbed a cup of Gatorade and put on their “warm-ups” to keep from getting a chill.
Runners who had completed their run milled around, met the kids from the other school and swapped stories, friendly jabs, and compliments. At some point that evening, the coaches figured that all of their team members had returned. The time keepers downloaded results to their computers, and those who helped set up the lane began to tear it down and pack it up. The meet was over.
At the edge of the field, just visible by the stadium lighting and several hundred yards away, one more runner appeared. The runner was a girl who was probably a freshman or sophomore. She was from the Irmo High School cross country team. She was clearly struggling to find the energy to finish up running strong. It was quite clear that she was one of the overweight kids that had, against all obstacles, trained with the cross-country team all season. Even though she was finishing dead last, it didn’t seem to dampen her spirit. She was working hard to make her way toward the lane that was gone and finish line that had been removed.
You could see the amazement of the Irmo team as they made each other aware of the last runner coming in. One of the girls on the Irmo team yelled, “Form a lane!” Other team members echoed this command as the Irmo team quickly rose to their feet. About forty students scampered to assemble themselves into parallel lines forming a lane. Once in place they all shouted words of encouragement to the final runner. As this girl entered the lane, the team members from each side of the line joined hands to create an archway for her to run through as the encouragement continued. What could have been an embarrassing and humiliating finish for this girl was turned into a welcoming and rewarding conclusion from her team members.
My words cannot explain the impact of the scene that night. I will always remember how great this group of all-American kids looked on that cool fall night as they proudly stood under the bright stadium lights in their black and gold warm-ups cheering their teammate on. They showed everyone present what compassion and sportsmanship is all about.
Responsibility for the values displayed that night rest with parents of the team members and with Coach Moore who has been an inspiration to the kids his entire career. The coach’s leadership clearly shone through in the actions of his team that night.
Submitted by Anonymous
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