I ran in a local 5K event yesterday morning.  I do that every now and then to test myself and to get close enough to death to better appreciate my life.  My result in this event was, even in comparison to my own previously established level of mediocrity, terrible.  I was a full five minutes slower than my best time, and it might as well have been five years slower given how I felt after I was done.  I do have a couple of points to make before the court in my defense.  First, the conditions were not at all good for running.  Even at 8:00 a.m., the temperature was over 80 and the humidity made it feel like a 5K swim instead of a run.  There were some familiar names of local runners on the results list and even some of the best runners around were considerably slower than usual.  Second, while my time was disappointing, I still finished second in my age group.  There were only four people in my age group, but that part of the story will be long forgotten as I discuss this event in the future.  I should note that a significant percentage of the people in my age group that could be running in this event are dead, and therefore not very competitive.  A larger percentage are injured or otherwise not physically able to perform and most of the rest were in a bar somewhere getting ready to watch some European soccer match.  My devious master plan to get better placings in these events through long-term attrition continues to pay dividends.

So I was only a little bummed as a sat down to do some after-race stretches, but bummed is bummed and I wasn’t feeling too great.

This particular 5K event was to raise money for prostate cancer research.  Prostate cancer is a particular interest of mine, since that’s what killed Dad about two years ago.  That might explain why, as I was doing those stretches, I had a flashback to another athletic event over forty years ago.  My senior year in high school, I decided to throw everything I could into getting into the State wrestling tournament.  I spent the entire summer training and going to tournaments.  When the season started, I was as fit and ready as I could possibly be and it showed in my early results.  Then, in the middle of the season, I caught the measles.  There’s something about lying sick in bed for two weeks that’s not conducive to a training regimen.  By the end of the season, I thought I was back in shape and was ready to take my shot at the regional tournament that would decide who went to State.  Then I injured my shoulder three days before that tournament.  So it probably wasn’t too surprising that I lost my second round match to a guy I’d beaten earlier in the season.  The loss didn’t end my State tournament hopes, but it made getting there unlikely.

I walked off the mat, gasping for each breath, shoulder hurting like crazy, feeling like my world was crashing in.  My coach chewed me out for whatever mistakes I made, then walked away to coach another wrestler whose match was just starting.  I crawled up the bleachers to where Dad was sitting.  I guess I was half expecting him to chew me out as well.  He’d done that a few times over the years after sporting events.

This time he surprised me.  He told me that the other wrestler was really good and that he’d clearly gotten better since the last time we’d met.  He reminded me that I still wasn’t done, that I still had a chance, that the wrestlers I would be facing in the rest of the tournament weren’t as good as that guy and really weren’t as good as me.  I still felt terrible, but I could feel my equanimity being restored.  I had a chance.

I won my next match, putting me into an elimination match to determine who would go to State.  It was a close match that I almost lost at the very end of regulation.  The match went into overtime and I found a burst of energy and won easily in overtime.  For this match, the entire family was there.  As I walked into the stands, I noticed my youngest sister was bursting with joy.  My other sister was crying. “I thought you were going to lose,” she said.  Mom was ecstatic.  Then I looked at Dad.  He actually looked drained, like he’d been out there with me.  But he smiled a big smile and congratulated me.  It wasn’t the best moment in my life by a long shot, but it’s probably in the top twenty somewhere.

Years later, we were reminiscing about that event and Dad told me something that he hadn’t mentioned before.  “You weren’t the same wrestler after you had the measles,” he said.  “You were still winning matches, but you were winning on guts instead of ability and you were running on fumes by the end of the season.”  Then he added, “I really didn’t think you’d make it to the State tournament.”

The flashback passed and I finished my stretches and headed to the car.  On the way home, I tried to figure out if there were any great truths to learn from that event.  “Sometimes lying to your children is the right thing to do” just doesn’t seem like something you’re going to see on a motivational poster anytime soon.  Maybe the lesson to be learned is that sometimes fatherhood requires thinking and strategies that are a little outside the box.  Maybe that’s true for any loving relationship we have.

Happy Father’s Day!