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.