Several weeks ago I woke up on the third morning of a weeklong camping trip with a local Boyscout troop, hungry mosquitos desperately trying to drain energy from me. I had made it through another evening and wasn’t feeling badly at all. In fact, it was as if I had caught my second wind after a long exercise regimen. I stretched my achy back and reached for the toothbrush and my eyeglasses both tucked safely in my carry pouch.
The boys outside my tent had already started to stir and I realized they had to be enjoying a ten to fifteen minute head start on me. No matter. As long as I was somewhat alert for the flag raising that’s all that mattered. Breakfast was sure to be a disappointment for me and my self imposed diet that omits pork products (choice, not faith).
The Ceremony complete, I marched the boys down to the mess hall over small hillocks and exposed roots of long ago born trees. The natural rock formations worn by years of size sixes and smaller threatened to trip me. But I made it in spite of my blurred vision. “Coffee…” Was my only thought.
So the meal came, I grabbed my coffee and sat to choke down some dry toast masquerading as something the French might’ve lain claim to were it not for the bitter aftertaste. I sighed. Then announcements. Merit badge classes: Archery. Shotgun. Sailing. Cooking. And a dozen more. Good. Full day. I’ll be as busy as the boys.
Then the announcement I was not expecting. There is a foot race planned some weeks after I am scheduled to return home. I’ve never participated in a foot race so I was interested for purely selfish reasons. I like seeing my belly get smaller and there’s a handsome patch in it for every participant. Cool. Sign me up.
Later, I see the beautiful patch in the camp store. I realized that the patch was part of a trifecta of patches. By participating or whimping out and buying it, I could get that patch they talked about. I thought of my son and how he would enjoy the collection of his patches. So I thought, when I get home, I’m gonna register both my son and myself for the race, we will earn that patch together.
Weeks later, on the night before the race, I register us both.
My son, ever the inquisitive one asks me why he is going to have to awaken at 6:30 am on a Saturday to run a race? I didn’t want to ruin the patch surprise so I hid that from him and admitted to wanting to do it just to do it. And I admitted, truthfully, that I wanted to do it with him. He seemed skeptical but allowed himself to be placed in my car and driven an hour away for an uncertain event.
We get to the camp and wander around a bit looking for familiar faces. Finding them, we greet the others and then stretching so we are not too sore for the race. I insist we are not here to win, but to finish. I ask him to lead me through stretches he uses in his community rowing team. They helped loosen us both up and he seemed to enjoy showing me something he knew.
The starting gun fired and we were off. For almost 1/3 of a mile I ran. Then I started to sweat. Puff. Even drool a bit. I was faltering already. “…Oh well. I’m only here to finish…” I remind myself. I began to hope my shoes would fail so I could turn back. I was gasping for air. I didn’t think I could go on.
Then I looked at my son. And he was just fine. So I smiled. And pressed on. But not as fast. This part of the race I just jogged at a very slow pace. My son saw me do this and kept pace with me too. He urged me on when the road grew long and steep. He called out words of encouragement to me when and even before I knew needed it. Then on one particularly rough hill, he came up to me, extended his hand, and held mine as he pulled me along. My own son gave me strength. He held me as I struggled and in so doing I was reinvigorated and my strength was bolstered enough for me to press on.
All of this in the first mile.
And he didn’t stop. He got me going when it was toughest. So I showed him beautiful mountain lake vistas I saw before on this same trail when I went on a much slower paced hike with the boys some weeks before. I showed him a tree stump with flowers growing out of it. Houses that defied gravity as they clung to mountainsides.
Then finally, nearly five miles later we near then end of the race. He sees it before I do and suddenly, without warning, he grabs my hand, yanks and takes off like a shot. The scoutmasters and youth staff leaders are gathered within the last quarter mile and they are shouting words of encouragement. Their shouts are like the water tables all along the trail. Refreshing and welcomed. But nothing these scouts offered me was like the hand of my son around mine. I was whipped, but I ran, just so I could finish with him at my side.
I couldn’t have done it without him and I wouldn’t have wanted to try.
The race that began at my urging finished at his. Tired, sweaty, smelly, calves on fire, chest heaving in the air. And I’ve never felt so good in my life.