What was your defining moment in sports?
Some scored the winning touchdown. Or orchestrated a come-from-behind win in a basketball tournament. Clobbered our first home run. Maybe nailing that triple axle – finally.
For me? It was the day I gave up.
It wasn’t just a loss. It wasn’t a race I was beaten in. No one tracked me down, I wasn’t hurt, and it was completely in my hands.
I just chose to toss it away. I quit.
I still don’t know why.
I’m glad that I did, though.
My athletics history is wrought with more bloopers than trophies, more mediocrity than memorable moments.
That could have changed one day in Longs Peak, CO. But it didn’t.
I can’t even remember the race distance. Not that it matters. It was about a third too long for the lesson.
Several schools participated in this track meet on a gorgeous Colorado spring day. I felt good for some reason. Really good. I rarely felt adequate in sports, let alone good.
I took to the blocks. I felt confident. Cool.
I was out of the blocks like a shot.
No one really noticed at first. I was the only John Evans Junior High runner in the heat.
And I was out front. Unfamiliar ground for me.
I remember the first turn. I was all by myself. I remember the surprised looks on my teammates’ faces, mouths agape, eyes wide, as they stumbled over each other to get up and cheer me on – as if they’d seen the sickly antelope turn the tables on the hungry leopard for once.
They cheered. I ran. I dug in. I was going to win. For the first time ever, I was going to win.
Then, a strange thing happened.
I slowed down.
One runner overcame me, then another. Two more. I’m not sure who got past me, but it felt like everyone.
I can’t say today why I didn’t keep digging in. Perhaps if I had, my life would have changed.
Maybe I’d have won again. Maybe I’d have started on the varsity football team. Maybe I’d have gotten good grades, taken care of myself, and finished college.
I had always thought that maybe the universe reigned me in that day. Reminded me of my place, which wasn’t anywhere near the winner’s podium.
I felt bitter about it. Disappointed. Disgusted with myself for having blown the chance. I told my coach that I’d injured myself. I was done for the day.
I don’t think I ran another event.
That day wound up being just another stepping stone in my uneventful athletics career.
Or did it?
No one encouraged me that day to try again. No one said they saw something in me. When I fell behind, they turned around. Show over. Should have known better, probably.
Today, I see that kid on my team sometimes. I see that he knows mediocrity as I once did. He’s comfortable there.
I want to help this kid. Not so that he becomes the next Lionel Messi or she becomes the next Abby Wambach, but so they give themselves the chance, put their best out there and let the universe decide what to do with it.
Maybe if I’d started in football, studied hard, taken care of myself, and wrapped up that college degree, I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be that kid.
But I do. Because I did settle for mediocrity. I chose not to win.
I tell this story to my teams because I still don’t understand why I did it.
But if it put me on the path to becoming their coach today, I’m glad I did.
That doesn’t sound so mediocre, does it?