It was just about the most beautiful fall morning imaginable: leaves were golden all along the river, the dawn was crisp and clear, and an electric anticipation energized our cross country team.
The State Meet had arrived.
Our entire girls team was there, an underdog to bring home a trophy for the first time ever. While I was excited for them, most of my attention was on Blaine, our lone boy runner.
We were all aware of Blaine’s story. A senior, Blaine had prepared for this moment for years. He was well-positioned to challenge for the individual state championship, having a season best time in the top 3 in the state. He had worked tirelessly, pushing himself in practice and meets, all to get to this day.
There was also a powerful undercurrent of emotion that lay just under the surface for Blaine: Blaine’s mom Karmen, a talented athlete herself who ran cross country in college and competed in the Boston Marathon, had passed away years before when Blaine was only 9. Running is an important connection to his mom, and this made the day of the State Meet even more important to Blaine.
You never would have guessed looking at Blaine as he stood at the starting line, composed and confident. The gun sounded, and the runners were off.
Blaine was fast out of the gate. A cluster of runners quickly separated themselves from the rest of the pack, and Blaine was right in the heart of them.
They made the first loop, and Blaine was right where he wanted to be: drafting behind a few other runners, well within striking distance of 1st for his final kick.
I hurried over to the last turn, anxious to see Blaine run down the other athletes in the last stretch. I waited anxiously, more excited than I’ve been in years.
And then life threw Blaine a curve.
Runner after runner passed me, and Blaine was nowhere to be seen.
Blaine had fallen down amidst the jostling of runners, and was outside the top 20. By the time Blaine got to the final turn, raw emotion and disappointment were evident on his face. My heart hurt for him, and I cheered him on before hurrying over to the finish line, hopeful I would get a chance to encourage him.
As He so often does, in that moment of personal trial, God showed me something beautiful.
When I found Blaine, he was sitting on a cooler as our athletic trainer helped him with his timing chip. Another runner had come over to talk to him, and I saw Blaine muster a smile and offer the kid a fistbump. Their conversation went something like this:
Other Runner: “Good race! Today you helped me achieve a life-long goal!”
Blaine: “Oh, congratulations. What was your goal?”
Other Runner: “To beat you!”
Blaine, a fierce competitor, smiled and made some small talk with the other runner before the kid finally wandered off. No one thinks the other runner was trying to be malicious or hurtful, but you can only imagine how Blaine must have felt in the moment.
I kept a close eye on Blaine as he got up and flitted about from group to group, hugging his parents, encouraging his teammates, and fellowshipping with other runners. Never once did he appear sullen or petulant. The graciousness and depth of character Blaine showed that day humbled me.
In Philippians 4, Paul writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound…. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” As Christian educators and parents, we must not lose sight of this truth: our hope is that our students mature to the place where they can be content in whatever situation they find themselves; that they can, in fact, flourish in any trial through Christ Who is their strength. Our prayer is that they will be able to do just as Blaine did: look one of life’s many disappointments straight in the face, offer it a fistbump, and give God all the glory for it.
You see, more often than not, winning in life means infinitely more than just finishing first.