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Little Red Running Hood

Day One. The boys started with a timed mile at their track tryout. After stretches, we opened the doors from the gym to the back fields and a gust of chilly March air hit us hard, piercing our lungs. We quickened our step to almost a slow jog to the starting line, hopping up and down to fight the cold. Most were in shorts and a few only had a t-shirt, exposing their goose bumped arms. Once regrouped in a huddle, we shouted out brief instructions about the parameter and the route. I reminded the boys that while they should be cognizant of their pace that the mile was timed and they should be aiming for their personal best.

Gulli says, “Go,” and we’re off. Side note swerve: I volunteered to run the first of three laps with the boys to, “show,” them the route and also observe. They certainly, “showed,” me I have no business trying to keep up with 13-year-old boys and a 7-minute mile. So, while, “keeping tabs,” at the end of the pack, I encourage the stragglers. After my one round is up, I record times and encourage the boys as they pass laps.

A few minutes after I jog in, little man comes around the corner. Limbs flailing, hunched over, almost stumbling. Even from a hundred yards away I can hear his gasps. He’s one of the youngest of the candidates. Although I don’t teach his grade, I remember this one.

Earlier in the day, a fellow teacher called to me from her office as I was passing. “Hey, little man was wondering how long tryouts go until today.” He was sitting at her side, wiping his glasses. I proceeded to relay the information and I say, “You’re trying out today? That’s great.” He places his glasses back up the bridge of his nose and says with a sniffle, “Yes. I just want to know so I can call my Mom so she knows. But I want to be on the team.”

I look away for a moment and hear an 8th grader murmur, “uh-oh…” I return my attention back to the flailing little one. He’s now on the path, feet planted in a squatted, hunched over fetal position, hugging his legs. I call out to him across the field, hoping to boost his morale. In full, defeated melt down mode, he doesn’t respond. Instinctively, I make my way across the field to him.

“Hey,” I say in what had to be the most motherly, oh my god what if this was my kid my heart is breaking, tone. “What’s up, man? Are you ok?”

He’s gasping and sobbing. His face still buried in his arms.

“I can’t feel my hands. I can’t breathe. I want to go home. I want to call my mom,” he sobs to me.

“I know it’s cold, but we gotta keep moving. Don’t stop, even if you’re just walking fast. You can do this. Come on. Let’s head back together.”

“I caaan’t. It hurts,” he cries.

“Come with me. If you move, you’ll warm up. Do it for you. Prove to yourself that you can finish.”

He gets up. We slowly walk jog back to the check point. He drinks from his mini blue Gatorade and begins to catch his breath. I turn my attention once again to the passing runners on their 2nd and final laps. After a few minutes, from my peripheral I see him jet off to complete another lap around the school grounds. His little red hoodie bobbing up and down until out of view. “Awesome,” I say to myself with a smile I can’t hide.

Ten minutes later, the final few were running their way across the finish line. Little man trotted in almost unannounced. He only completed two of the three required laps, but he still marched up to me to inform me of his, “time.”

We all go head back into the gym to get a drink and warm up before the 100-meter dash.

“Are we going back outside?” he asks with hopeful, yet panicked eyes.

I tell him we are going to get a drink and brief him on the agenda for the next 35 remaining minutes, which includes heading back out into the cold for the final sprint of the day.

He crumbles. Literally falls again down into a ball, hugging his knees with his red hood covering his face. I look up to a colleague who is approaching and give her a brief explanation of the situation.

“I want to call my mom,” he cried again. “I can’t feel my hands.” With this he finally looks up slightly and shows us his small outstretched, flushed hands, palms up. “And I can’t breathe. I had a cold for the past three weeks.”

My colleague looks at me with knowing eyes. I look over to the boys who have now returned outdoors and have begun to prepare for the 100-meter sprint.

“You can call your mom from my office,” my colleague offers.

My heart sunk a bit, but I had to admit that this was probably best for all.

“Ok,” he replies, not looking up to either of us.

“Hey, you tried your best out there. I’m so glad you came to try out. Now go call mom and warm up. Feel better.”

I walk away and jump back into recording and helping out with the group.

Little man didn’t come to day two of try outs. I didn’t see him in the hall today, but he’s been on my mind. No, he won’t be on the team, but man did he make an impact on me. I asked for their personal best for the mile. The child was in a ball, sobbing and freezing far beyond his comfort zone. It may have taken him a minute, but he recovered and in that brief moment when I wasn’t watching, he decided on his own to go for it. He went for another lap; around the bend and suffered through it. Yes, he fell into a puddle moments after the run, but I pray that he felt something yesterday. In that moment when he told me his, “time,” alongside all the rest of the Jr High boys, I hope he felt proud of himself. He accomplished something. Progress is progress. He thought he couldn’t go another step, and yet, he took a breath, a sip of Gatorade, and proved himself wrong.

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