Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Victory Down Shelly Lane by Janeen Wright

Helping a child cope with failure provides them with an invaluable advantage in the world.  Failure is part of life, a natural obstacle on the road to success.  But one must put failure into perspective in order to use it best.

When I was in 9th grade, I went out for the track team.  I was a decent runner;  but my best friend, Shelly Lane was not.  Our coach placed her in the event that no one wanted to enter:  the big two-miler.  Yep, eight laps around the track at race pace.  Fortunately, my father was not only an incredible cheerleader, he was a great spectator.  He never missed a track meet and was ever the fan of the underdog. While I enjoyed a fair amount of success, Shelly's experience was miserable.  She was always dead LAST.  Both of Shelly's parents worked full-time and I never saw them attend a meet.  But Dad was always there--for both of us.  That freshman year, Dad taught me more about life than I learned in all my years of psychology training in college.

The two miler was the final event of every track meet. The first time the announcer called for the participants to gather at the starting line,  Shelly winced.  She knew what was coming and it would likely be embarrassing, not to mention exhausting.  For 14 long minutes I watched as everyone began to trickle across the finish line.  First was a gal from Kino.  Next, our star from Carson, then a little squirt from Poston.  Then came all the others.  That is, all except, one:  Shelly.   Sixteen minutes, 17 minutes.  And counting!  Shelly was the  only runner left on the track and she had a whole lap to go.  Suddenly, she stopped running and started crying.

And that's when I heard it.  A familiar, low-toned voice shouted, "COME ON, SHELLY!   DIG DOWN DEEP!"  Instantly, I recognized the inflection.  The "oh no you don't!" command.  I looked to find Dad, whose call was nearly stifled by the hands he had cupped tightly forming a megaphone around his mouth.  

What happened next still brings tears to my eyes.  Dad darted from the stands and headed toward the track.  He took his place on the field next to Shelly, who was walking slowly on the track, choking on her sobs.  He said something to her, and then he began to jog.  He was clapping his hands and cheering.  He believed in her.  The entire crowd began to applaud for Shelly.

Although he could not finish for her, Dad provided Shelly with the support she needed to win her own race.  He trotted back into the stands before I could hug him, but  I'll never forget what he said as we drove Shelly home from the meet.   He glanced in the rear view mirror at  her as she sat in the back seat gazing out the window.  Then he taught us the lesson of a lifetime:  "The secret of life," he said softly, "is to get up each time you fall down, Shel.  Stay down, and you lose...."

Shelly finished a perfect season, and yes, she was last in every race.  But finish each, she did.   I've whispered dad's words to to myself over the years as I trained for seven marathons.  Every time the going gets tough, I realize his wisdom transcends the track.  So I have relayed it to my own children.

I am forever grateful to a parent who taught me that failure was nothing to be ashamed of and for the lesson titled,  "The Victory Down Shelly Lane."

Janeen is the President of the American Mother's Association, an accomplished marathoner and a Boston finisher.  She is my runner partner and I am proud to call her a friend.

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Que lindo es sonar despierto.
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