What is so joyful about running a race? Why are all these girls exploding off the starting line with giddy grins on their cute little faces? As soon as I opened this picture in Lightroom, that was the thought that came into my head. You see, I guess I found it surprising. So all those happy faces got me thinking, and here are some things that started flying through my head.
Is it because they all think they are going to win? This is their second cross country race of the year, and many of these little faces I recognize from last year, so this isn’t their first rodeo. Is it because they are too young to understand competition? They are indeed young, but not too young to grasp how competition works and they know only one person crosses the finish line first. Are they smiling because everyone get a medal (and an ice cream cone, pizza party and picture up on Facebook, etc) where adults have made everything ‘fair’ and everyone a ‘winner.’ Nope, the top kids get medals and everyone gets a refreshing cup of water. So, if they aren’t happy because they think they are going to win, or they think that they are going to get something at the end, what could it be?
So, this got me thinking some more. And here is my theory.
They are smiling because they are happy and having fun (deep, huh). They are starting on this run, this journey…and they can’t see the end, but they know it is there. They aren’t running hopelessly forever without aim or purpose; they have a goal. And they get to go on this journey with their friends right beside them! No worries about not having someone who doesn’t understand what your journey is like, they are step for step on the same path as you, and that sureness of camaraderie and absence of loneliness is powerful. And they are outside, and the sky is blue and the air has a dusty sweet smell of summer just turning to autumn. And it is true that many of them if offered (my kids included) would choose a video game over a dusty, sunny run in a field…but their true natures know what is best for them, and there relaxed and joyful bodies and faces reveal this truth. Oh, and there are all sorts of people around them that aren’t running, parents, teachers, friends, high school runners. These folks are there to run with them and show them the way because they have ran this same path before them, or to cheer for them all along the dusty, warm, slightly ambiguous path around the hills and fields. To say, I believe in you; you can do it.
I really appreciate individual sports. With teams, one is going to win, and one is going to lose. And big people can really start to use their math skills and think, dang, that means my kid has a 50% chance of winning, and so I have to push him to 51% so he is definitely the winner, because if he is only 1% away from winning I should push, because everyone wants to be the winner, right? And suddenly friendly competition can get ugly. With a race, one person is going to win and the other 100 aren’t…and big people start to use their math skills and think, dang, that means my kid has a 1% chance of winning, so I am going to sit back and cheer everyone on and just encourage me kid to do their own best.
I guess they are happy because they do think they are going to win and get something in the end. They win as soon as they start that race, and they get the satisfaction of accomplishment at the end, and a sense of community all along the way. And this, this is truly so much more valuable than a medal and an ice cream cone, isn’t it?
Run the good race, girls.
And adults, if you have a (life or literal) race to run, grab a friend to go with you. If you don’t have one, look around you and get to know the folks that are step for step trudging the same path; you are likely to find a sympathetic one right beside you. And if you don’t have your own race today, for heaven sakes, cheer on the ones you see running by you, or if you have ran their path before, and they look confused as to where they are supposed to go…run a few steps with them and show them the way. And I know, if offered, it may be easier to choose to look at your cell phone (myself included), but consider your relaxed body language (and heart and mind) when you are out there in the fields. It speaks the truth.
Thank you to the Heritage High School cross-country team for hosting this run. I know you do it as a fundraiser, but it is a symbiotic experience, and community and character-building.
Thank you to Northside Elementary and especially coach Steen for creating a sense of team and community, keeping a sense of humor, and being out there coaching and cheering for these kids and making them feel special.
If you have an event that you would like photographed, I would love to come document the day for you. You can visit my site, blog, instagram or facebook to see recent work. Here is recent basketball coverage. Of course, I do regular ‘ole portrait sessions, too. I happen to really love what I do, and so I might show up to your session with a giddy grin on my face as well. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or text or call 479-426-0200.