the hurdle

April 20, 2014

We were the coolest bunch of ragtags I’ve ever been a part of. As we walked into the school this weekend, we met another team and struck up a conversation. A sentence containing the words “first track meet” was spoken. “Oh wow!,” I heard, “Your first track meet this season?” “Uh, no . . . our first track meet. Ever.” Silence.
Yes, our first track meet ever. Somehow we haven’t managed to pull off the logistics necessary for one yet. But thanks to the hard work of the co-coach we no longer have in country, it just happened. From the start, it was clear that we would have stories to tell, with energy belying the fact that we had all had to leave school at 5:00 the morning of the meet in order to catch a flight that would get us there in time for opening events. Mind you, by the time after-dinner socializing had begun, that energy was long gone: they were a pitiful bunch, really—begging to be allowed to go to bed while the rest of the teens enjoyed games and a live band . . . a band with which I would never have the guts to pump up and spontaneously harmonize to “I’m gonna be” ;-)
But I digress. What I was going to tell you about was the first thing that made my day—a day that was made a thousand times over by the end of it. First off, I should explain that our school has not managed to brave the world of hurdles. For one, I am clueless as to the coaching of them. For two, we have not had the funding to purchase. For three . . . oh wait, I forgot: there are only two reasons I can think of at this point in my travel/running weary brain.
So the first event of the weekend was hurdles. Once all were set up, one girl could contain her curiosity no longer; she went over and began experimenting with them. She then looked over at the coach next to her. “I could so do that! she exclaimed. He shrugged, “Why don’t you ask if you can?” I was walking over from the other end of the field when she came running to me with her request. I didn’t stop to think beyond running myself over to the administrating coach to ask. He called over to stop the guys who were in the process of taking out an extra lane of hurdles. Those extra hurdles were no longer extra. As you might suspect, she did well. Really well. She also went on to medal in several events. Not bad for a first-timer, eh?
Continuing the pinch-hitting trend, we had a relay team decide that they liked doing the 4 x 100 well enough: why not add join the teams doing the 4 x 200 too? Why not get a 3rd place medal while you’re at it? We had one similar highlight after another over the two days of events.
But I think what struck me the most—and what I applauded them for in our pre-boarding airport recap meeting—was the “teamness” of them. I kept watching the ways they cared for each other: running to cheer on their teammates; carrying shed jackets and shoes; bringing waters and snacks; supporting limping, or dog-tires competitors . . . in short, showing real care. These kids don’t just claim to be friends: their friendship has hands. And feet. Fast feet :-)
Incidentally, we also managed to end the weekend with one war wound. A war wound that occurred on the bus ride from the finished meet to the airport. One young man discovered that he had crushed the lens of one side of his glasses, leaving them in his pocket during the races. Intrigued by the idea of potentially having lens-less frames to, I suppose, look cool in, he proceeded to push on the other lens with his fingers. Shortly, we were taping up a bloodied finger, which we took turns monitoring for the rest of the journey home.


April 5, 2014

About those twists and turns . . .
So this past week has brought a twist that blindsided my little corner of the world. It changes everything. Or so it feels at the moment. In a way I feel sheepish to be even claiming, as it were, this event, as my own portion of the pain is miniscule in comparison to the pain of others involved. But it has touched me all the same, and as I cannot deny this fact, I might has well reflect verbally on its ramifications.
One day this week I headed out to practice as usual and was perplexed to find my co-coaches absent. As dedicated as this couple is to the sport, I could not imagine why they would be absent at all, never mind without warning. But we carried on as usual, me with my distance runners and another parent helper filling in with the sprinters. The next morning I came into work early, checking email before heading to the morning meeting. Seeing two emails from this couple, I read them immediately . . . and a pause button was pushed on my day. They had suddenly left the country, after a discovery of quickly advancing leukemia in their youngest son. Because of the rate of progression, there was no time to even go home from the doctor: they left instantly. The day passed in a blur of work-as-usual interspersed with tears. The 4th grade class, in which this son was a part, shut down altogether when the news was announced, allowing each child time to grieve and process. In fact, the whole school felt to me to acquire a sort of communal feel, as thought we were simply one giant 300-person family going about the business of supporting each other as we figured out how to move forward from here. And in terms of business, I had to get to it pretty rapidly, as we had just booked flights for a Track Meet which was headed up by this couple. I was faced with the realization that I had to figure out what to do now about solely chaperoning a trip that I did not even have any flight, lodging, or event information for. As so often happens, however, those details began working out smoothly enough, as others pitched in to help with the planning, and as the family themselves landed and was able to be in touch again.
Now, only a few short days later, Spring Break has begun, promising to allow for a bit of space to reflect, in unexpected ways. This day began with setting out for my planned travel, gearing up for a long journey for the sake of event planning that is not exactly high on my enjoyment-level-radar. Arriving early, we leisurely made our way to the check-in counter. Once there, however, it quickly became apparent that this flight was not going to happen smoothly, if at all. As I had made the purchase through the airline’s website, the connecting flight it had given me was, as I have now a new realm of knowledge for, “locked” in this country. I was beginning to envision cancellation altogether when they finally figured out the issue and fixed it. By this point, however, my original flight had left and so I had to be rebooked on another one. I was not amused. I very much dislike surprises, and I especially hate not being where I [think I] am supposed to be.
P, as he does, took it all in stride. “We have some more time together,” he said with a smile. I grunted my agreement in a manner highly unbecoming of one committed to a lifetime of such time together. But we began to walk around, heading out to see if the sun was warm enough to enjoy out on the airport asphalt. From where we stood there, however, we noticed a surprisingly peaceful area of paths and gardens down below. We wondered if it was even accessible, being as deserted as it was. But we soon found a way down there. What came next was a true blessing of an afternoon. We meandered through the paths, admiring the roses and enjoying a conversation that meandered just as much as our feet did, covering both seriousness and pure goofiness. Time passed rapidly and once the flight time had arrived, I was amazed at how much brighter my outlook had just become.
It is amazing how vivid the small things become when things in life hit us. Moments become more meaningful [unfortunately, this applies to the negative as well as the positive, with human nature being what it is] . . . Colors become brighter . . . People become more real. I guess we all have a little bit of Velveteen Rabbit in us.