David’s Run

David’s Run

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

David’s Run

Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.

Walter Elliot

It was the day of the big cross-country run. Students from seven different elementary schools in and around the small town of 100-Mile House, British Columbia, were warming up and walking the route through thick evergreen forest. In the five years I had been teaching at Horse Lake Elementary School, I had come to respect the tough pioneer spirit of the local people. Named for its location 100 miles from Lillooet, (mile zero on the old Cariboo Gold Rush Trail), and dotted with active cattle ranches, 100-Mile House sometimes seemed like a place out of time, with its horses, cowboys and cattle drives. At an elevation of 930 metres, 100-Mile House is a community in which spring comes late, snow comes early and winter sports are a local passion.

It was now late May and the ground had only just dried enough from the melting snow to hold the race. I looked around and finally spotted David, standing by himself off to the side by a fence. He was small for ten years old, with freckles and unruly red hair. But his usual big toothy grin was absent today. I walked over and asked him why he wasn’t with the other children. The only response he gave me was he had decided not to run.

What was wrong? He had worked so hard for this event!

I quickly searched the crowd for the school’s physical education teacher and asked him what had happened. “I was worried the other kids would laugh at him,” he explained uncomfortably. “I thought there might be a fight if our kids tried to defend him. I gave him the choice to run or not, and let him decide.”

I bit back my frustration. I knew the coach meant well and sincerely thought he was doing the right thing. After being assured David could run if he wanted, I turned to find him coming towards me, his small body rocking from side to side as he swung his feet forward, awkwardly walking on his toes.

David’s cerebral palsy prevented him from walking or running like other children, but at school his peers thought of him as a regular kid. He always participated to the best of his ability in whatever they were doing. Which is why none of the children thought it unusual that David had decided to join the cross-country team. It just took him longer, that’s all. David had not missed a single practice, and although he always finished his run long after the other children—he did always finish. He had stubbornly run a total of twenty-three kilometres in practice runs to prepare for that day’s two-and-a-half-kilometre (1.5-mile) run, and he had asked me to come and watch. As a special education teacher at the school, I was familiar with the challenges David faced and was proud of his dogged determination.

We sat down together on some steps, but David wouldn’t look at me. I quietly said, “David, if you don’t want to run today, no one is going to make you. But if you’re not running because you’re afraid someone is going to laugh, that’s not a good enough reason. There will always be someone who will laugh and say mean things. There are people like that, and that’s just the way it is. The real question is whether you are going to let those few people stop you from doing something you really want to do. Are you going to let them get in your way? If you really want to run, David, then you run!”

I held my breath as David took this in. Then he looked at the field and said with a fierce but quiet determination, “I’m gonna run.”

I stood on the sidelines with the excited crowd as David moved up to the starting line. The starter’s gun sounded, and David lurched forward with the other children. But he had only gone a few metres before he tripped and fell flat on the ground. My heart sank. As I started to shout encouragement, other voices around me took up the call. “Come on David, you can do it!” I knew without even looking that these voices were not just those of his schoolmates. They came from parents, teachers and kids from other schools, who quickly understood the courage it took David to attempt this run.

David picked himself up and started again. All the other runners had disappeared over the hill. But it didn’t matter. This was David’s run. He had worked for it, and he wouldn’t give up! As long as he was in sight, David heard people calling his name.

I waited anxiously by the finish line as the first runners completed the two-and-a-half kilometres of forest trails. Soon all of the other runners had come in and another race had begun. Still no David! I started to feel sick. Had I done the wrong thing? He hadn’t checked out the trail with the other runners. Could he have become lost? Finally, a small figure emerged from the forest. With heels kicking out to the side and his body rocking with the rhythm of his run, David plodded toward the home stretch. He raised his arms in triumph as he crossed the finish line to wild cheers and applause.

Then, when David’s coach slapped him on the back and said proudly, “Good job, David!” he caught my eye, flashed me a toothy grin and said, “That was easy!”

At the end of the year, the track coach asked the class to nominate one of their classmates for the athletic award for their grade. Without hesitation the whole class voted for David, saying that no one had worked harder for that award than he.

It was an amazing moment at our year-end assembly. The auditorium resounded with cheering and applause when David came forward and received his award for outstanding athletic achievement—from his beaming coach.

Linda Chamberlayne
Kelowna, British Columbia

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