Running to Win

Running to Win

Jess crouched low and leaned forward stretching the lean muscles of his back against his lightly toned skin. Hands on the pavement shoulder width apart, his left leg stretched out at length behind him, his right pulled up close under his stomach. It was almost time. This is what he had been preparing for, what he lived for. This was his day. The victory would be his.

The sweat beaded on his forehead and jumped onto the scorching asphalt below. His eyes were focused straight ahead. He wasn’t looking at anything in particular, just trying to visualize the finish line like his dad had taught him. His dad had always said,

“Jess, if you want to win the race you have to keep your eyes on the finish line. You can’t let other things around you become distractions.”

Jess wasn’t thinking about the four other guys beside him. He didn’t even know they were in the world. The sounds of the people in the stands encouraging their kids to do their best fell on deaf ears. His mind was clear and focused. He couldn’t see the finish line, but he knew it was out there somewhere and all he had to do was reach it.

“RUNNERS…on your marks.” The line judge held his pistol high.

Jess knew he was different, a fact that other kids at his school never let him forget. His parents called it being special, but he knew what that meant. He tried for all

the world not to let it bother him, to fit in with the crowd. To be normal. But, normal was never in the cards. At sixteen, Jess’ life had been as far from normal as it could get.

He had been born with Downs Syndrome. It wasn’t a sever case, but it was enough to show. To look at him one would think he was a normal, healthy sixteen year old boy. It had taken years of therapy and training to give that appearance, but that was only a mask. Nothing could hide the more obvious effects. The slurred speech, the slow gait, the quick temper; those he had to live with.

Jess had spent most of his life in a special school that catered to kids with disabilities. In the special school everyone accepted him as he was. There were no cliques or clubs, just other kids like him. He had never felt the stinging blows of ridicule and persecution that public schools are famous for, but he had lived it for three years now and was used to it. He wasn’t going to let that bother him today. Today was his day. He could smell the victory and it smelled sweet.

“GET SET.”

Jess knew the only reason he was on the track team was because the coach felt sorry for him and the school feared a lawsuit if they didn’t allow a disabled boy to play on a sports team. He understood that the world just worked that way. Ethics, morality, right, wrong had nothing to do with making the world go around. He didn’t really know what did make the world go around, other than God, but he didn’t care as long as he got

to run.

When he had joined the team last year it was all he could do to jog around the track one time without tripping over his own feet at least a couple of times. Some of the other kids just laughed as he limped across the finish line minutes behind everyone else. Usually by the time he made it they had already started another race. But Jess had been practicing. He had been running and exercising every day and he had the scars and bruises to prove it.

He was proud of himself for practicing so hard and getting so good at running. His dad was the most proud of him. The last thing he had said before Jess had went into the locker room to change for the race flashed through his mind.

“Son…I’m proud of you. Win or lose…that’s not going to change.” His dad had supported his decision to go to public school and to join the track team. He had encouraged him to do his best at everything he did. He always said that the race wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about finishing. Jess knew that his dad’s talks were never about running track or any other human race, but about the race of life. You have to keep your eyes on the finish line and not let the world distract you.

No one was going to be laughing at him today. He might not cross the finish line first, but cross it he would if he had to crawl across it on his knees. He would not give up. He would not quit. All of his training and all of his prayers, bumps, bruises, scrapes, blood, sweat and tears came down to this moment in time

He thought about his favorite bible verses.

“I can do all things through Christ.’” “I am weak, but he is strong.”

Jess tensed up. He could almost hear the starter take a breath before firing the pistol to start the race. He took one last deep breath and lowered his head. He said a prayer. Not to win, just to finish.

“BANG!”

No one was laughing at the finish line. There were looks of astonishment all around. Jess received high fives and pats on the back from all of his team mates. His dad was there to give him a hug and tell him how proud he was. It was his best race ever. He had finished fifth, three seconds ahead of last place.

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