|Assuming the "CHARGE!" position|
Since 2008, I have had the privilege of coaching the Chetek-Weyerhaueser HS Cross Country team. Our team has a tradition of sorts come race day. After their warm-ups and their run-outs, after stretching and getting their spikes on, after huddling up for a group prayer, they get in their assigned starting lane and await the countdown of the official. In CC, the starter will announce “5 minutes to race time”, “3 minutes to race time”, and so forth. At the ten second mark he begins the countdown which after he reaches 5 goes silent. At that moment, our kids – both girls and boys – raise their right hand into the air, make a fist and at the retort of the pistol yell as loud as they can, “CHARGE!” I believe this started my first year as coach. I didn't come up with the idea but my only requirement now is that their CHARGE be not wimpy but shouted with authority. (In fact, we actually have a drill called, “Run and Scream” where we practice the C-W Charge so that it is yelled appropriately.) In any case, this is what our kids do at the start of every race.
|The "CHARGE!" 2010|
A week ago we ran in the Rice Lake Invitational, what I refer to as the Über-meet where perhaps 1,000 runners converge on the grounds of UW-BC to run a series of races fielding several hundred runners each. For our JV guys' race, however, due to injury and vacation, only Austin was able to run and so all by his lonesome he took his place in our designated starting lane. Austin is a kid who a year ago could hardly run without walking, arguably the slowest kid in CC in this part of the State. He was born with hydrocephalus (i.e., water on the brain) and has some other physical limitations. He also has two sets of upper teeth the result of which it is very difficult to understand what he's saying much of the time. He came out last year and we agreed that our one goal for him was to run a complete race – something he achieved at the conference meet later that fall. In the spring, he went out for track but due to the fact that Coach Buchman can only race so many guys he didn't see a lot of action. But this year he is running stronger and longer. In fact, he's already had a race or two where he wasn't last – something that's not important to me but is to him. At Rice Lake, after I prayed with him and stepped off to the side, he looked so forlorn among the hundred or so other runners lined up all around him.
|The "CHARGE!" at Spooner 2011|
Even though my 35mm SLR camera is always at hand, I had put it away in my case. After shooting the start of the previous five races there was going to be nothing unusual about the start of this one. But when the ref hit the 5-second mark and went silent, automatically Austin's hand went into the air, made a fist and when the gun went off I could clearly hear him yell, CHARGE! above the assorted yelling of the bystanders. Incredible. I wouldn't have said anything had he not chose to do this. After all, he was running all by himself in a race that he was most likely going to come in last. But what a beautiful moment that was when in a sea of runners here was my guy bravely making known our presence out on that field as if some fierce compatriot of William Wallace at Stirling Bridge. When I think of the challenges this kid has both physically, mentally and economically seeing him valiantly charge out of the box with his fist in the air it was decidedly, as the kids like to say these days, epic. One physically impaired young man against so many on a field where he would indeed run dead last that afternoon but also set a new personal record for himself. It was a race that began with panache and ended with a flourish. And my only regret is that I didn't capture the start on film.
|William Wallace would approve|
Though I do get paid to coach my kids, it's moments like these that are part of the true payoff in this job: helping young people look adversity in the face and run recklessly to it. It's the kind of mettle Austin is going to need to overcome the limitations he has been born with and into. But last week in that field across the road from the UW-BC campus his display of courage brought a tear to my eye and gave me hope that he may get there yet.
|Go, Dog, Go|