From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Run for Gold

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.

Heywood Hale Broun

I was nine years old in 1967, the year of Canada’s centennial celebration. I raced home from school on that bright spring day, bursting with excitement about a Canadian national fitness competition the teacher had told us about. “It’s all running and jumping and sit-ups and stuff,” I explained, “and I’m going to go for a gold medal just like in the Olympics!”

Around the dinner table that night, my older sister Nancy and I both explained to Mom and Dad about this fitness test. But I knew I wasn’t very good at running long distance, so I asked my dad how I could get better at it.

“What about practicing?” Dad suggested. “We could go in the evenings to the track at the high school and do some training there.”

“Can we start tonight?” I asked excitedly.

We left the house holding hands and talking. I had to almost run to keep up with my six-foot-two father’s long stride. Soon the high school loomed ahead, and it seemed enormous compared to my own school building and playground. When we got there, we entered the gates onto a huge football field surrounded by an outdoor track.

“I have to run the whole way around this track, Dad, and the time it takes determines whether we score a gold, silver, bronze or participant metal. It seems so far!”

“Well, let’s give it a try,” smiled my dad. “You must be warmed up from the walk, so let’s start right here.” He chose a spot on the spectator side with a long, straight stretch to run first, and set us up to start running.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” he said, and I took off. Dad ran along beside me, and I was panting hard by the time we made the first turn.

About halfway around I stopped and cried out, “I’ll never do it, Dad. We’re not even halfway and I’m beat!”

“The problem is your timing. You have to learn to pace yourself if you’re going to run the entire race. We’ll try again, start off slowly, run more steadily through the middle section, and then sprint to the finish line. Let’s see how that works,” he explained as we returned to our starting place.

We began to run slowly, and my “coach” murmured encouragement like, “That’s good, a bit faster now, keep breathing steadily.” This time I got more than halfway around before I began to slow down. “Okay, push yourself now,” cried Dad, and so I did. “We’re almost there!” and sure enough, we completed the circle.

Every night for two weeks Dad and I walked to the high school and ran the track at least twice. I slowly grew stronger, and my pace began to improve. I loved having him running beside me.

Race day dawned sunny and warm, and since it was a Saturday, my whole family prepared to go to the track meet. My excitement had turned to nervousness, and I bounced around the house as everyone got ready.

“Let’s get going, Dad. There will be a huge crowd,” I called as I headed out the door.

The walk seemed short that day, and when we arrived at the track there were hundreds of people, loads of cars, and the air was filled with noise and excitement. The voice on the loud speaker called out the race times, and it seemed only a few moments before my event was called.

“Line up behind the ‘start’ line,” the voice instructed. My dad nudged me forward, steering me to an inside position. To me it seemed very strange to have the track lined with spectators and to have other friends lined up along with me. I looked over my left shoulder and saw my dad smiling. He said, “It’s just like we’ve practiced. Start slowly and you’ll be fine.”

“On your mark, get set, BANG,” and the race began. I started to run and watched many of my classmates sprint off ahead. I heard my father’s voice in my head saying, That’s it, a nice smooth start. Now just run easy around this first curve and get into a rhythm and keep a steady pace. I ran steadily and soon began to pass many of the fast starters on the straight backstretch of the track. When I rounded the one curve, once again I heard Dad’s voice in my head saying gently, Now push, and pour it out over the finish line. I started to pick up speed and used my arms to pump extra energy into the last section of the race. As I ran across the finish line I heard the cheers, and I saw my mom and my sister on the sideline. As I ran a little further to slow down and cool off, once again I glanced over my left shoulder—and saw my dad! Suddenly I realized why he hadn’t been on the sidelines with the rest of my family. What I had been hearing hadn’t been a voice in my head at all! My dad had run the entire race on the grass along the inside of the track right beside me. When the winners were announced, and the medals were awarded, we both won gold that day.

Ruth Barden

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