69. The Most Dedicated

69. The Most Dedicated

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

The Most Dedicated

The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.
 ~Henry Ward Beecher

Shortly after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, I secured my first teaching job at Oak Creek High School at the age of twenty-two. In addition to teaching mathematics, my athletic director made me the head varsity women’s cross country coach. Being a competitive runner, cyclist, and swimmer since the age of nine, I was very excited about the opportunity to lead a varsity program at the Division I level. Given my high school accomplishments of being an all conference athlete in both cross country and track as well as many great half marathon finishes post high school, I felt that I was properly prepared to get this program on the winning track.

On the first day of practice, I had only twelve girls show up, which is an extremely small number for a big school division team. Most of the girls claimed that they did no running over the summer and consequently we had to start very slow. To make a long story short, it was a very frustrating season for me. Injuries plagued us as many of the girls had hip and knee problems throughout the year, mostly due to their lack of running over the summer months. At the end of the year, we had placed close to the bottom in almost all of the meets. Needless to say I learned quite a bit about coaching and motivating athletes.

After the season had ended, the athletic director informed me that I needed to choose a most valuable runner and a most dedicated runner to award a plaque to at the end-of-year banquet. When it came to choosing the most valuable runner, the decision was easy. A sophomore girl named Bridgette that year improved her time, from last year, by more than 4 minutes in the 2.4 mile cross country race. Besides that, Bridgette was also our number one runner at nearly all of the meets and definitely pushed the other girls on the team during workouts that year.

The decision as to who got the most dedicated runner award was not so easy. I lost several hours of sleep each night trying to figure out who deserved the award. It was not until I looked up the word “dedicated” in the dictionary that it became clear to me.

There was a senior on the team named Andrea who had run on the team all four years. Andrea was by far the slowest runner on the team. She had lots of barriers that made running difficult for her such as asthma, being slightly overweight, and a wobbly running gait. Despite those barriers, Andrea showed more heart, determination, and will in the sport of cross country than I had ever seen from a high school athlete. Her attendance was nearly perfect and she was at all practices on time, which is something that none of the other team members could claim.

When I drove by the high school on off days, I saw Andrea running on the sidewalks getting in extra workouts. During races, she almost always came in dead last, sometimes lagging by more than a quarter of a mile. She always came across the finish line with a smile on her face. The amazing thing is that finishing last did not faze Andrea one bit as she continued to push herself and give it her best. Often times I would run workouts with Andrea as none of the other team members ran at her pace and many times I even offered to make her workout a little shorter and she always declined.

At the final team banquet, I had the honor of awarding Andrea with the most dedicated award. I will never forget how her eyes lit up with amazement and her big smile as she rushed to the podium to claim her plaque. To this day, it was one of the most rewarding moments in my life. After the banquet, many of the parents and athletes questioned my decision, claiming that it should have gone to another girl on the team. The sad truth is that if most of those girls would have had a quarter of the desire that Andrea had, they would have been state athletes.

The next morning I was in my classroom getting ready to teach when Andrea walked in. She looked up at me with tears rolling down her cheeks and said the following words that I will never forget: “That’s the first time in my life anyone has ever recognized me for something that I have accomplished and I would just like to thank you.” As a tear rolled down my cheek, I looked back at her and told her never to lose her desire and passion for running. Even though my career at Oak Creek High School was short, I have the team picture from that year hung on my apartment wall. Looking at that picture and seeing Andrea in the background sometimes just gives me the inspiration to always do my absolute best in everything that I do.

~Ben Mueller

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