Yesterday I left my kids' swim meet sore all over. No, I wasn't in the lake with the swimmers. My shoulders ached from the big bag of towels, snacks, camera, and sunscreen. My feet hurt from three hours standing on a plastic dock in paper thin flip flops. My hands hurt from clapping, my throat was raw from cheering, and my ears were happily tired from the applause and cheering around me. Here's what I love most about summer swim: often the loudest applause is for the slowest swimmer. There was a mighty roar for my five year old as he completed 25 meters of backstroke, using a kickboard, after what seemed like a week. Throughout these meets, the spectators and swimmers from both sides cheer the hardest for the littlest and the slowest. Another mom and I were trying to articulate why that is. We think it has to do with the effort. How can you not encourage someone who is trying so hard? And in sports like swimming and track and field, that effort is so plain to see.
I came home from the meet and Googled "Rick Reilly and cross country" until I found "Worth the Wait," a column from his very popular Life of Reilly column in Sports Illustrated. I had read it months ago in Reilly's funny, inspiring, opinionated, and scathing (when on the topic of Barry Bonds) collection of columns called Hate Mail from Cheerleaders.
"Worth the Wait" is about a high school cross country runner with cerebal palsy named Ben Comen. It will make you feel good and make you think twice the next time you think something is too difficult to attempt. It is certainly worth looking up on the Internet or checking the book out of your library to read it.
I'm going to get you started with the first few paragraphs here:
"Why do they come? Why do they hang around to watch the slowest high school cross-country runner in America? Why do they want to see a kid finish the 3.1 miles in 51 minutes when the winner did it in 16?
Why do they cry? Why do they nearly break their wrists applauding a junior who falls flat on his face almost every race? Why do they hug a teenager who could be beaten by any other kid running backward?"
Okay, go now. Read the rest. It's worth it.