A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


      It wasn’t that Milo was a bad athlete.  He was good.  Well, OK – he was average.  He wasn’t a klutz – not by any means.  But he wasn’t exactly an all-star, either.  At least, nobody thought so until the day he shattered the school record in the 220-yard dash.

      Milo was in 6th period gym class when it happened.  In an effort to discover hidden talent the high school gym teachers were timing all of the students in the “non-athlete” gym classes (all of the athletes on school teams were assigned to a special 7th period class) in various events.  Generally, the search proved to be futile.  Most coaches believed that any serious athletic talent would have been discovered long before high school.  Still, there was always the chance of a late bloomer or a new move-in coming along who could help some team, somewhere.  So they timed the “non-athletes” – expecting nothing, but hoping for something.

      Milo had always been pretty fast – not REALLY fast, but faster than . . . well . . . some, so he wasn’t all that surprised when he finished first in the class in the 220-yard dash.  But he was surprised by the look of awe that was on the coach’s face when he announced Milo’s time.

      “Is that good?” Milo asked.

      The coach looked at him, stunned and amazed.  “It’s a new school record,” he said.  “In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a state record – maybe even a national record for your age group.”

      Suddenly Milo was special.  The coach treated him with new respect.  And the rest of the non-athlete gym class viewed him almost heroically – even though his success meant he didn’t belong among them anymore.

      “Are you going to join the track team now?” one of his friends asked.

      “I’m faster than Johnny Bibler,” he said, invoking the name of the fastest guy in the school until that afternoon.  “I sort of feel obligated.”

      It was all very exciting – until the gym teacher figured out that he had made a mistake in his placement of the finish line that day, and Milo had run only 180 yards instead of the required 220.  In other words, if he and Johnny Bibler had raced against each other, Johnny probably would have won by about 40 yards.

      Or would he?

      “I was running pretty well that day,” Milo said.  “I might have run fast enough that the coach would have been willing to let me join the team so he could work with me.  But I never got the chance to run the full distance, so I guess I’ll never know.”

      Unfortunately, a lot of our young people are running 180s in a 220 world.  Well-meaning parents, teachers and others shorten the race for them rather than pushing them to the full extent of their ability – at home, at school, in the neighborhood, at church.  We want them to like us and we don’t want them to be “stressed,” so we allow them to think it’s OK if they pull up short of the mark.  We accept C’s when the child is capable of A’s.  We consider “it’s boring” an acceptable reason to quit piano lessons or going to church.  We don’t challenge their excuses, as if we actually believe that teachers, computers, umpires and that kid up the street are out to get them.  We think we’re helping them by making their lives easier and less stressful.

      But we’re not.  Not really.  Eventually life will demand that they run a full 220 – all-out, no stopping, no excuses.  Those who have not learned how to push themselves to go the entire distance will find it difficult, if not impossible, to cope.

      And, like Milo, they’ll never know what might have been just 40yards down the track.

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— © Joseph Walker

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