Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Spirit – Not the Spirit of Competition

I’ve been thinking a lot about competitiveness and its place in my life lately.

Dad was very competitive, unless it was at the expense of someone else.  He always set goals for himself for running, whether it was to be among the top finishers, to run the race in a certain time, or to complete a race that was unlike one he had done before, like an ultra-marathon. 

Even with an objective in mind, though, Dad always tried to help other people who were also competing.  He often cheered people on in the middle of a race while he was running.  He always appreciated the spirit of competition and admired people who overcame adversity and challenges to rise to the top, especially when their success wasn’t expected.  On more than one occasion, Dad won a trophy or a medal in a race and then gave it to someone else who had competed in the race but who hadn’t won, often a child who had finished a race for the first time ever.

When I was a teenager, Dad drove a couple of guys from my high school and me to a state park in Mississippi to compete in a small-town road race.  We left early on a Saturday morning, and, as we drove the last mile or so to the starting line, we saw a teenaged boy walking along the side of the road in basketball shorts, walking barefooted and carrying spiked track shoes.  The guys in the car and I laughed when we passed the boy because he seemed so poorly prepared for a race that was about to be run on a paved road.  Dad didn’t laugh; he said, “You never know who’ll get the last laugh.”  We found out how true that was after the race when we found out that the boy had finished in second place overall, running on Dad’s heels with his spikes clicking on the pavement for the entire 5-mile race.  

The last race that he and I participated in together was in May of 2010 and was a Muddy Buddy event in which teams of two had to tag-team over a 7 mile course, taking turns on foot and on a mountain bike.  Teams were put into age divisions according to the combined ages of the two teammates; Dad and I were in the “Over 105 Years Old” age division!  Many teams had dressed in costumes, some of which were quite elaborate.  When everyone lined up at the starting line, I told Dad that we if we ever did another race like this, we should plan to wear something better than the matching t-shirts we had on.  He said, “I think it’d be better just to train more than to hassle with getting costumes.  Today I mostly just don’t want to get beaten by someone who is running in a tutu.”

In this race, Dad started out first on the bike.  At the one-mile mark, he parked the bike and set out on foot.  I started among the other first-leg runners, several minutes behind the first-leg bikers, and ran to the one-mile point and then hopped on the bike.  We continued to leap-frog like that over the rest of the course.  At one point, I was running and heard footsteps coming up behind me.  I turned around and saw Dad running (he was supposed to be biking that leg since I was running it), carrying our bike and another bike too.  

“What happened?” I asked him.  He said that a girl on the course had had a flat tire, and so he offered to carry her bike to the next check-point so that someone there could get started on fixing the tire while she completed that part of the race.  He added, “Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure we still don’t get beaten by anyone wearing a tutu!”

I know in my head that grief and loss are not a competition, but I sometimes cannot help myself from thinking about his death as being more tragic, unfair, shocking, etc. etc. than some other people who were his age or older, who were in poor health because they didn’t take care of themselves, or other illogical ranking factors.  It doesn’t make sense to compare, I know.  It’s hard for me to listen to others’ stories of grief or loss without adding my personal experience or thoughts or advice, but I know I have no idea what I am talking about.  Everyone thinks his or her story is the hardest and most unique.  I guess it isn’t a competition when your heart is broken.  It’s not more or less broken; it’s just broken.  In other words, no heart wears a tutu.

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