I finished my leg of the race, bent over for a breather and then sprinted to the other side of the field just about as fast as my legs would carry me after running the first leg of the 4xmile relay. This was a once a year occasion and I was not gonna miss out on any scream time for the next fifteen minutes while my teammates ran the other three legs. A little girl approached me to say good job, and I quickly said thanks and shrugged off the congratulations. There was no time for anything at the moment other than entire single-minded focus on yelling. Three miles later our anchor leg crossed the line in second place and after all hugging we walked towards the gate with our heads down and hearts defeated. We had done all we could do and still, for the second year in a row, it was only good enough for second place.
As I walked by the two hundred mark the same girl came up to me again. She asked if she could take her picture with me. Flattered, I agreed. Her mom told me she ran on the Excalibur track team. It was the same track club I used to run for every summer before high school started. I can still remember those workouts like they were yesterday. To this day I have never done anything harder than workout with Cortez Nichols. The girl was not prideful. She was quiet and so inspired. She told me she got a picture with Jenny Barringer Simpson, Allen Web, and Lolo Jones. I didn’t have the heart to tell her my name and autograph meant nothing in comparison to these Olympians, but I felt so special that I could be someone’s hero if only for a moment. The girl did not brag or boast, but it was her mother who told me at age eleven she had already succeeded in winning the state Special Olympics meet in two events. She had run a 1:17 in the 400 and 2:53 in the eight hundred. I tried to portray to her how excellent this was. These times were faster than most children her age who were born without any physical or mental limitations.
I feel terrible that I cannot even today remember her name, but I will always remember what she taught me. When I was too busy cheering to pay notice, she was patient. When I was down after a near win, she persisted in showing love. This eleven year old child was the most pure form of Christ and the gift of love she gave to me and specialness she allowed me to feel was unmatched by any running performance that weekend. It was just a moment when everything clicked. When running actually did have a purpose. It was not about winning anything, or running a spectacular time, or impressing the crowd. On a day when I had been questioning running for months beforehand, this girl gave me hope and such great joy. With anything we do in life, if we can commit to it with full purpose and passion and allow God to reside within us, we will find hope and meaning. If we can humbly accept that what we do is not about ourselves but about inspiring others and learning and striving to better yourself, then we may find meaning. I guess it took an 11 year old girl to remind me of this, but to her I am every thankful.