44: Still a Winner

44: Still a Winner

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Still a Winner

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.

~Author Unknown

A bright red apple fell out of my knapsack and bounced against each step before landing at the foot of the stairs. I stared at the broken apple with tears in my eyes, desperately holding onto my knee, hoping to stop the pain.

“What’s wrong, honey?” my mom asked, running to me where I’d fallen at the top of the stairs. I was unable to speak as I sobbed in her arms. She held me tenderly and stroked my hair. My body trembled as I blurted out my story between gasps for air.

“My knee hurts when I run, jump and play with my friends! Last week I fell down during hopscotch. Sometimes, I have to grit my teeth to stop the tears. I didn’t want to tell you because you’ll take me to the doctor.”

Despite my protests, my mother convinced me to go to the doctor. But nothing prepared me for what the doctor had to say.

“You have Osgood-Schlatter disease. It’s a knee disorder that affects athletic kids between the ages of nine and sixteen. It could create permanent damage and pain if you don’t take it easy for a while. If you’re having pain, it means you have to stop what you’re doing and rest.”

“Can I still do sports and track and field?”

“You better stop doing organized sports for now. You can participate in Physical Education class if you don’t feel pain. It’s not track and field season yet. Let’s wait until spring and see how you’re feeling.”

I sat in her office, speechless. I thought my life would be over if I couldn’t compete in track and field. I was only eleven years old but I’d been the best runner, high jumper and long jumper in my school since kindergarten! I always won first prize in those three events. But the one hundred meter race was my favorite competition. Nothing boosted my ego more than my schoolmates cheering for me as I sprinted across the finish line. I said a silent prayer that God would heal my knee by spring.

When Mom brought me to school the next day, we met with my teacher, Mr. Lewis, and explained the situation. The doctor said I should elevate my leg and ice it whenever it hurt. It seemed like a big hassle, but Mr. Lewis made me feel more comfortable by sharing my story with the class. At first I was embarrassed about my injury, but soon realized it was a great way to get attention from other kids.

It was hard to stop playing with my friends and sit down, but there was always someone willing to get ice or an extra chair. The hardest part was being a spectator on the sidelines. I tried to be strong, but there were times when I’d get so mad I wanted to smash everything in the gym and curse God for doing this to me. One evening, while alone in my bedroom, I got so mad at the pain that I yelled “You stupid knee!” and actually whacked my knee with a book. Of course, that made it throb more and I had to ice it for the rest of the night.

Spring eventually came and the fateful return to the doctor was scheduled. I prayed she’d tell me everything was fine. But my hopes were shattered when the doctor explained that competing this year would put too much strain on my knee. Then the final blow hit me like a knockout punch that left my ears ringing in disbelief.

“You may never run competitively again, possibly for the rest of your life. I’m sorry.”

I was crushed. I stared out the window of the doctor’s office and wished I had lied to her. I should have told her my knee never hurt during sports. I should have run all year through the pain. I never should have told my parents. The conversation between Mom and the doctor grew faint as I daydreamed about winning the one-hundred-meter dash.

Nevertheless, the next day I was stuck inside, while the other kids were outside running. Mr. Lewis told me I could write for extra credit while the others practiced track and field. He had always encouraged me as a creative writer and told me I should enter the town poetry contest that year. Every day, I worked on different poems to enter in the contest, constantly revising and perfecting the rhyme and rhythm. But the sadness of being excluded from track and field was overwhelming.

One day I was in the classroom writing when I overheard Mr. Lewis talking to the boys in the next classroom. While he explained the rules of track and field, several boys moaned and complained about participating. They were tired of running every day and wanted to quit. Until that moment, I’d never heard Mr. Lewis get so animated and loud.

“I’m ashamed of you boys! At this moment there’s a girl in the next classroom dreaming about competing in track and field! She’d do anything to take your place, but because of a bad knee, she can’t! You able-bodied boys should be embarrassed! You should be happy you can run every day without pain! Now get out there, start running and stop your whining!” Then he blew a loud whistle and the boys scurried outside with their cheeks flushed and their heads hanging low.

I sat in my seat in shock. For the first time since this happened, I felt valued and appreciated. Mr. Lewis understood how much I’d lost because of my impaired physical condition. Through the tears, I smiled and thanked God for my teacher. From that day forward, I wrote my poetry with a deep conviction that I would win the poetry competition, for me and for Mr. Lewis!

That year, I did win first prize in the poetry contest of my small town in Ontario, Canada. I have Mr. Lewis to thank for pushing me to strive through difficult times.

During the last class of the year, Mr. Lewis gave everyone a special quote to take with them to ponder throughout their lives. This is what he said to me: “Kathy, people look up to you and respect you. Never lose their respect.”

Before leaving the classroom for the very last time, I walked to the front and placed a big red apple on Mr. Lewis’s desk.

“An apple for the best teacher in the world,” I said. “Thank you Mr. Lewis. I’ll never forget you.”

~Kathy Linker

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