By Anna Luberda – It was 45 degrees, overcast, and there were 30 mile an hour winds. Great day for a track meet. Last week the track team at my school was in desperate need of an extra adult as one of their coaches was unable to attend a meet. I volunteered the day before because I was told that I would get to go out to dinner with the team afterwards. As a poor student teacher and now an even poorer Jesuit volunteer, I have never, and will never, pass up a free meal.
So there I was, sitting in the bleachers at a high school about 30 miles away from the reservation. All the while I was thinking to myself, “Really, Anna? A windbreaker?” The weatherman said it would be a cool 55 degrees with a light breeze. Nonetheless, I was there for the day to offer support and encouragement to the small group that comprised the track team.
There are about 25 kids on the team, a good majority of them are good competitors. There were a few kids who knew they would be missing a day of school for the meet and thus showed up and were unwilling to try very hard. And of course there were the kids who were not particularly great at any event but were anxious to try everything. These are the kids I love the best.
As a student at a small Catholic grade school outside of Chicago, I was never really very good at sports. I tried them all– thanks to my mother– but never really got the hang of anything. So I’ve got a soft spot for the kids who try their hardest but come up short.
Two team members stuck out to me the most at the meet. One was a fifth grader who was at his very first meet. He signed up for every running event. I was corralled in to being a timer at the finish line so I got to see him run all his races. Each time he came around the track towards the finish line, dead last, he had a huge smile on his face. He was looking from side to side, as if to say, “Why are all these kids running so fast?” Each time he came in last I patted him on the back and said, good job! and he was off to his next event.
The other student was a seventh grader who played every other sport at school as well. He also placed last in all his events. Now, I was always a little bit of a sore loser. Not this kid. He came right up to me at the end of each race and told me that he had beat his time from the last meet and that he would work on beating it again at the next meet. He would also then go find every other kid in the race and shake their hand or give them a high-five. I almost cried when he told me how much he loved running track.
As the school year comes to an end, I’m starting to think about how much I will miss these kids. Things like these track meets make me think about how upset I get over something small and how ridiculous it seems later on. It’s inspiring to see a kid who comes in last in every race trying harder and harder each time to improve.
After his last race, he came over to me and said, “You know what? It’s better to come in last place than not to place at all.”
It’s little things like these that make me glad to have picked the profession I did. It’s hard to imagine so much inspiration coming from any other job.