I hated School Sports Day.
It was torture as far as I was concerned.
I simply wasn’t designed for running. I mean, I had all the necessary appendages: they just didn’t propel me forward as quickly as everyone else’s.
So I always came last. In. Every. Single. Race.
I couldn’t work out why speed eluded me so there was no way of improving. Years later, someone told me about sprinting on the balls of your feet, but by then, everyone had given up on me athletically.
It was humiliating as a child to cross the finish line yards and yards behind everyone else. On the one hand, I knew everyone noticed – that’s why my classmates groaned and picked me last for any team – but on the other, I felt completely alone – the race was already over by the time I finished and all my efforts went unacknowledged.
Years later, I still don’t run. Now I have the excuse of dodgy knees and pelvic floor.
But I do help out at an annual Sports Day and love it.
I love it because it’s different.
It’s a Boys’ Brigade event. Held at a local athletics track, children from 5 to 18 have the opportunity to compete on proper facilities, with everything from sack races for the littlies to 1500m for the older ones. It’s still a competition, complete with a trophy ceremony at the end. But the atmosphere is nothing like my School Sports Days of old.
Boys make friends with each other across the different companies (teams) during the events. They stuff themselves with sweets from the tuck shop and sometimes have to be reminded to finish what they’re eating before competing. They play spontaneous games of football and play on bouncy castles between events. Families picnic around the spots field and make a day out of the event.
The boys stand along the inside of the track, cheering all their team mates on, no matter what position they’re in. While a lad who regularly competes for his county may win a distance race to natural acclaim, other boys or staff jog and walk alongside the lad who is over a lap behind and on the point of giving up. They go at his pace, they encourage, and as he enters the final straight and speeds up into a sprint he didn’t know he had in him, they match him stride for stride, as the crowd’s cheers grow and the finish tape is stretched out again, just for him. The noise is as loud for him as for the one who came first.
My youngest trained for and ran a half marathon. It was the same there.
We shouted from the side of the road as he set off, hurried across the course to halfway to do the same, and screamed with excitement from the stands as he entered the stadium. I doubt he heard us (although he knew we had promised to be there) but his last hundred metre burst earned him a mention over the public tannoy.
There were athletes present using this as practise for a full marathon. There were seasoned runners. There were newbies. There were charity runners. They were of all abilities but all were equally cheered on and valued for their achievement.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament says:
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’
And I think of us, trying our best to run a good race on earth, even when we feel ill suited to the task, or weighed down by troubles or own weakness. Let’s remember that we are being cheered on by those that love us up in the stands.
And let’s listen out for that One Particular Voice in the crowd Who always believes in us, always encourages us, always helps us keep going.
Or perhaps we’ll realise He’s been running alongside us all along.
Every week the Five Minute Friday community free write for limited time inspired by a given prompt word. It’s also a fantastically supportive groups for writers. You can find more inspirational writing here: Community – Five Minute Friday