Are you ready? It is the time of year when summer athletic practices begin in earnest, and along with some parents, faculty members, and alumni, I was a spectator for the Boys Cross Country time trial this morning. Poised at the starting line at 8:00 a.m., there looked to be about forty-five nervous, already sweaty runners.
I remember the feeling of the starting line as a High School Cross Country runner. To be frank, I always disliked that moment of waiting, of knowing what exhaustion lay ahead but having to delay just going ahead and getting started already(!). Earlier, when I was a weigh nothing middle schooler, and even through my ninth grade year, I remember distinctly that feeling of not having to worry about getting tired…ever—I could run all day, and several times I remember adding a workout to my day just so I could run with the older boys I admired so much. Later in my high school years, it became clear that it would not always be so easy.
On my office wall is a photograph from the mid-1920s of my grandfather just as he was about to win what later became the NCAA Cross Country Championships. It is among my favorite possessions. His career as a distance runner included races against “The Flying Finn” Paavo Nurmi, and an association with the New York Track Club, running often in the old Madison Square Garden. Runners will recognize even in his frozen gait a relaxation many great runners share. Only two details reveal his speed—his hair is blown straight back and his rear heel is a blur. Everything else looks as if he could be on a relaxing jog. [Westminster folks should not hesitate to stop by Askew sometime—I would welcome the chance to show you the photograph].
Many things about the photograph speak to me, none louder than the love I had for my grandfather (“Papa”). Relevant to this post, however, is that the calm he embodies in the photograph is doubtlessly the result of preparation and devotion to the task at hand. My grandfather loved to run. When he was a boy he would play fifty-four holes of golf each day in the summer by carrying a Sunday bag of clubs and running between shots. Even as an older man he would run behind the lawn-mover as he cut the yard. That love combined with preparation doubtlessly paved the way for his success as a runner. The idea of love combined with preparation also has relevance to the task at hand for teachers at the starting line moment August presents to us.
As a new school year stretches before us and as I try to hold so much new information in my head, I am also focused on what I love about school and how fortunate I am to have come to this one. I was never even a small bit of the runner my grandfather was, but I make use of the lesson he sends my way through the photograph. The lesson is about devotion to the task. As members of a school community we are in the position of having work worthy of our devotion.
So for a couple of more days we will stand at the starting line, waiting for the gun to sound. Let’s make it a good run.