After the ordinary couple of weeks I have had since Mum passed away, I have been feeling numb. But that all changed because of a 5 year old boy.
The night before his run, my boy Andre sits up in bed and says to me, “Daddy, I’m gonna smash ’em tomorrow”. His competitive spirit has no doubt come from two parents who understand that life knows the difference winning can make.
Andre often sees me set off for morning runs as he prepares for breakfast and dresses for school. There are many nights I arrive home with Lisa and the kids waiting in the driveway so we can go for our little family run.
Andre knows what ‘sprint’ means. But what about ‘long distance’. A 5 year old running his first cross country race of 500 metres doesn’t seem much. But to a 5 year old, it must feel the same as an adult staring at the horizon and aiming to run until you are out of sight.
The morning rolls around and Andre is clearly excited. As a parent, the mixed emotions run through your veins. I sat there over breakfast thinking about what his reaction might be like if he loses whilst simultaneously hoping like mad he wins. I know he wants it. And I know he would love the feeling. Just to know what it’s like to win is something you can’t teach. It can only be experienced.
Lisa and I had planned to be at school and like all important 1st’s we kept our promise. Most parents stayed on the oval where they could watch the finish. But I have never been good at following rules at school so Lisa and I went to watch the start.
As the kids walked to the starting line passed us, we finally see Andre and his class approach. He looks happy but surprisingly calm. I can feel the tension well up inside me. I know this is not serious but my whole life in sports has taught me about the tension before competition but this is different. All of a sudden, something happens that no parent expects from a 5 year old.
Andre looks over to us and slams his fist into his hand in a calm, confident way like a boxer would preparing for a title fight.
Lisa and I piss ourselves laughing as our normally reserved, “go-with-the-flow” boy shows his hidden spirit.
The runners are sent off in groups of 15 to 20 kids. Like waves at a triathlon start. Soon it’s Andre’s group.
The gun goes off and he belts to the front looking sideways as other kids pull alongside. Andre sees them. He gives a quick look at us but he then looks forward again to keep himself in front. The group passes us and we run down to the oval where they now have to complete another 400m around to the finish.
By the time we get down to the oval – which is only a minute or so – we see Andre out in front by about 15 meters.
The young kids are being paced by grade 5 kids so they go the right way around the course. With about 250 meters to go Andre is closing in on the 11 year olds. I can’t believe what I am seeing. Every thought and emotion a parent can feel is flooding my body. My son is inspiring me.
I watch in awe.
Andre rounds the corner and I can see he is feeling it but he soldiers on like a trooper. He crosses the line some 50 meters in front of the other kids. He is in a world of his own. He crosses the line and lets out a gentle sigh. Not like it was hard work. Just a pleasant relief. I can see he is happy. I know by the look on his face, he knows he just won. Lisa and I congratulate him but Andre says nothing. There is no ego. Just a satisfied look and his eyes start looking around for the icy pole promised to all kids as they cross the line.
For the first time since Mum died, I feel an immense joy of life again. The numbness I have felt for more than 2 weeks has melted in the space of minutes watching my boy just be a boy. He ran just like his Dad loves to run. And he did it for fun. And in that fun, he found a will to win. A will that somehow exists in cells I never knew he had.
May every child get to experience winning. May everyone strive to do their best for themselves. No ego. No reward other than the self fulfilment that comes from believing in yourself, going for it and coming out on top.
May we all continue to dream.