When Marie ran, Daddy followed.
Though, not immediately. The day she first ran – the morning of the soccer draft, four years ago, when Marie said she didn’t want to play soccer any more – I didn’t know what to do.
How could this happen? After all those great times, tournaments won and lost, the fun and excitement, happiness and disappointment and growth shared?
One teary Saturday morning, Marie said she’d had enough.
I watched her play games with her sister that day, after I arranged for another coach to take her team. I had to tell families I wasn’t going to coach their kids. Marie looked – relieved.
There existed in me a deep sense of loss. If I’d known at the end of the previous season that would be the last time she’d run off the field and into my arms, I would have held on so much longer that day.
What waited next for my second-oldest girl? Another sport? No sports at all? A hobby? She found Girls on the Run all on her own.
As a boy, I don’t know what goes on specifically at Girls on the Run. But I do know what comes out: Compassionate, confident, more self-aware girls than came in.
They run, they talk, they share, they love. They go for a ride, and take someone with them.
In this case, it was me. And the ride lasted 3.1 miles, officially.
I had zero 5Ks on my resume, and 1,001 excuses. Too hot. Too cold. Too hurt.
Who has the time to run?
Marie needed a run buddy for her 5K. I had one less team to coach.
The math was easy.
The road was easier than I imagined.
I ran a test 5K at school with Marie weeks before our race. I watched her ponytail sway in time in front of the pack with her teammates, and thought I did well to keep up with her.
It didn’t take long to realize she’d slowed down for my sake.
Ice pellets bounced off my Rockies cap on race morning. Marie’s blushed cheeks and smile told me she was ready. I hoped I was, too. Me, creeping up on 40, with no happy memories that involved running, wanting to do my best to not slow my fast girl down.
All adrenaline and gumption, I led the way at first. “Follow close!” I’d told Marie, and she did. When we got to open space, she moved to the front. When we approached a hill, we both cursed it, in our minds, at least.
We.hate.hills. We climbed them. Together.
We talked. We laughed. We ran. We saw the finish line. This time, it was Marie’s turn to lead. “Show me the way!” I told her, and put my aching body into it.
I felt emotional afterward. I know it wasn’t the Boston Marathon. I hadn’t broken any records. But I finished. I never thought I could. I followed that chocolate éclair-brown pony tail right through the finish line.
Marie pulled me through.
We ran another 5K months later, old pros at this by then. Nothing in this world had allowed me to do this before now. Or rather, I’d done everything I knew to stop myself from doing it.
I understood. I saw how she’d found a way to rescue me. To show me I could be fit for once. That I could be a runner, not an excuse machine.
I thought of triumphs we’d miss: The shootout she won with a penalty kick; her first goal, in her first game; her two-goal day on her mom’s birthday.
I thought of the pressure of losing a championship, 1-0, after an undefeated season. I realized the burden she might have felt playing on another unbeaten team that trailed in a match only once.
I saw the heaviness of that, too, that look in some kids’ eyes that they considered themselves part of a machine, and please, please Jesus, don’t let me be the part that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to and brings it all down.
The girl who couldn’t catch her breath when she played soccer? She stretched her legs and horizons as a runner. Chin up. Stride long. Eyes unwavering.
She returned to soccer, you know. Stronger, more confident, more Marie. She played up an age bracket and gave me the extra player I desperately needed. And kicked butt. She’s never looked back.
Sometimes, you have to stand and fight. Other times, it’s best to run.
Because you never know who might just need to follow you.
Why not run and play? Can’t forgo the the “runners high” after each run. Running gets you the most cardiovascular fitness; combined with weight training–it’s the best. So cool to know that your girls (and you) are into fitness through sports. You do so much for yourselves and society as well. Think of all the soft and obese people taking so much from the health care system. The typical Miss America or Mr. America is a sad thing to see.
While coaching my small son and daughter’s soccer teams and also coaching cross country, boys soccer, and track in high school for over 20 years, I can attest to the very important residual fitness that results from these sports. So rewarding to see a kid start poorly and finish in top physical shape. If only schools did this much for students in “physical education”
we’d have a much better world.
I agree. I don’t know I’ll ever be as fit as my kids are, but I feel better than I did at age 20, and that says something. I feel like if we keep moving, it’ll be tougher for age or sickness to stop us. Like Satchell Paige said, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
I love this post for so many different reasons. I can relate because my son is going into high school and they don’t encourage them to play more than one or two sports and he plays three. Which one will he give up? I know I am going to mourn whichever one it is. It’s the end of an era.
So very cool that Marie found something else that she loves to do. Is there any better feeling than watching our kids do well in what they love to do? I know it is not politically correct but it helps me like them again. Suddenly they aren’t the aggravator or the trouble maker. They are their own person excelling in what they love.
I wish, wish, wish, I was a runner. I hate exercise so much and I know you get more from running than anything else. Good for you that you pushed through and did this with your daughter. What great memories you are making!
Thanks. I think Marie will have to choose between soccer and track next season. She doesn’t know which way to go, and I wish she didn’t have to! My oldest daughter couldn’t try out for the play because of soccer, too …
One thing I do know: I’m going to support her either way. As hard as it was to lose her for a season on the soccer pitch, I wouldn’t have traded it for the girl who came out on the other side. It was Marie, 2.0.
You’re right, though, when they’re practicing their sarcasm on the couch watching Cake Boss, it’s a degree or two tougher to love them hard as you might when they’re helping their team.
Getting started running is the tough part; it’s so cool, though, once momentum takes effect, to pass the younger and skinnier runners out there. I’ll take my victories in any form I can!
This is the first post I ever read on your site, months ago, and I came back to read it again today. There are so many things I love. Letting your daughter take a break from soccer, trusting her decision, even when it tore you apart inside. Running alongside her for that first 5K, experiencing firsthand the ways running transformed her into a more confident young lady. Setting aside your excuses to cross that line with her. Letting her find her way back to the beautiful game, on her own.
I coached Girls on the Run in my local community for years before my daughters were born. I can’t wait to coach again when my girls are old enough to participate in the program. As a runner, I know what running can do for a person’s spirit and soul, but seeing it through the eyes of a child is simply sublime. Love this, Eli!
I saw a Girls on the Run group running at an elementary school as I left after a round of disc golf. I pulled way over to give them room, and also out of respect for not only the courageous girls eating up pavement, but the incredible women they’re going to become.