The JV Race of Life

Our oldest daughter ran varsity cross country every meet her freshman year. Candidly, we were pretty surprised that she even lettered, let alone stayed on varsity the whole season.

She’ll likely never win a state championship. Or even stand close enough to the podium to be in the picture.

The genes she was given will prevent that from happening most likely. It’s her parents’ fault 🙂

And honestly, competition isn’t really her jam. She doesn’t have that “crush you” type mentality.

She’d rather be part of the team, part of the pack, than really push herself or be pushed by someone else.

She’s a sophomore now.

During her first varsity meet of the season, she finished 7th on her squad. And if you know anything about Cross Country, you know that’s last on the team.

One of her teammates on JV beat her by 5 seconds that day.

So for the second meet of the year, she got bumped down to JV.

For years, I’ve tried every motivational dad trick in the book with her.

Encourage. Bribe. Yell. Tough love. Puppy love. Quiet treatment. Over the top treatment.

And through it all, there’s never been one race where I feel like she gave it all she had. Where she left it all on the proverbial field.

And she was likely thinking all along, “really old man, have you ever run 284 miles in the summer for workouts?”

But then something got taken away from her.

She has great coaches, but it couldn’t come from them.

She sometimes has great parents, but it couldn’t come from us.

She has super supportive siblings, but it couldn’t come from them.

It had to come from within.

So on that Saturday in St. Louis, she quite literally left it on the course. Backed against the wall, I really wasn’t sure which way she’d go.

Be pissed, blame the cold she had during the first race, and find an excuse to slip even lower.

Or fight for what she really wanted.

The other six of us were on hand that morning to cheer her on. We quite literally sprinted around the course.

We’re not used to seeing her out front.

But she started in the top ten.

By the mile mark, she was at 6th or 7th.

By the two-mile mark, 4th.

I’m fully aware of the perspective, it was a JV high school girls 5k race.

But something was different that morning for her.

She possessed a look I hadn’t seen before. Her eyes fixed straight ahead. Her stride unwavering.

As she hit the three-mile mark, she was in 2nd.

The last 300m, she gave it all she had, but couldn’t quite clip the lead runner.

I did what any annoying dad would do and climbed on top of one of the production trailers to get a better vantage point at the finish line.

We knew she had to beat 22:19 to get her spot on varsity back.

So when she came across the finish line at 21:39, I did what any annoying dad would do and screamed like she won the Olympic gold.

She finished second overall in the JV race, out of 244 runners. And she was her team’s fifth fastest, earning her spot back on the varsity team.

It flipped for her that day.

She gave it all she had.

Her experience connected to my own.  

Sometimes I’m happy to bump along, middle of the pack, staying off the radar, so I don’t have to answer the question, “did you really go for it?”

Until something gets taken away.

Losing a big client, getting fired, having your marriage hit the rocks, whatever the adversity.

I’ve been through all of those.

Life has a funny way of shoving you back to the proverbial JV race. Many times when you least expect it. Many times when you can least afford it.

Certainly, there are days when sulking, complaining and falling farther away from your true potential is unavoidable.

But better are the days when it causes something deeper to awaken…

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