In 1983 I was an incoming high school freshman eager to participate in a fall sport. At 100 pounds and five feet tall, I was too small for football. Concord’s soccer team had just won a state title so nearly one hundred boys tried out to make this team. Fortunately, our paper boy was a runner, making the sports section of Wilmington’s News Journal after each race. When I found out the cross country team didn’t cut anyone, I started my first of what I thought would be four seasons.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it, 1 Corinthians 9:24.
While running 5-8 miles a day in the heat wasn’t initially appealing, the individuals on Concord High’s cross country team welcomed me like I was joining a new family. The aches and pains of running were soothed by loving teammates who accepted me despite my size and stuttering. As the youngest child of three whose sisters were both in college as I entered high school, cross country quickly became my extended family, caring for one another before and after each race. What other sport do you find complete strangers hugging one another after a race or holding someone up after collapsing at the finish line so they don’t cramp up.
Someone said to Him, “Look! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside asking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples [and all His other followers], He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven [by believing in Me, and following Me] is My brother and sister and mother,” Matthew 12:48-50.
This encouraging environment has made me an advocate for cross country. While serving as a youth pastor in Indiana, I spent Saturday’s cheering on teenagers from my church. As a former runner, I was able to counsel the disappointed and motivate others to continue to improve. Running distances from 2.1 to 3.1 miles requires trial and error, going out at various paces to determine the best strategy for each course. The elite often use large invitationals as throw away races to see how fast they can go out before they die, falling way off the pace. While watching the Corinthian Games, similar to the Olympics, the apostle Paul writes about mental toughness, pushing your body to the limit to reach your full potential in the passage below.
Now every athlete who [goes into training and] competes in the games is disciplined and exercises self-control in all things. They do it to win a crown that withers, but we [do it to receive] an imperishable [crown that cannot wither]. 26 Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. 27 But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service], 1 Corinthians 9:25-27.
In my final year of teaching, I was fortunate enough to coach my two boys at Red Lion. The previous coach set up a running club three days a week for elementary students to go along with coaching the junior high team. This allowed Daniel to run with his older brother James., creating a competitive atmosphere. Recognizing where I was as a runner at this age, I implemented fun days to keep the casual runner interested, giving 8th graders input to choose a fun practice each week. Meanwhile, I pushed eager runners toward qualifying for the Yes Athletics National Championships as the East Regional was held an hour south of our school. Over a 3 year period, I drove runners to nationals at Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. This experience enabled students to compete against the best runners in the country.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God, Hebrews 12:1-2.
Over the past 7 years, I have been a cross country parent, watching my two sons run for St. George’s. Since my daughter Lydia has fallen in love with volleyball, Daniel’s senior year will be my final season attending Cross Country races. Before I become a volleyball groupie, the reality of saying goodbye to cross country will be sad. However, I do have a unique opportunity to run in a 5K prior to this fall’s county race known as the Old Timers Race. Unfortunately, this requires getting into shape and running in the heat. I haven’t started training yet, but as Daniel’s first race approaches this week, running to various mile marks with serve as a warm up. There is an old saying that states “Father Time remains undefeated.” Yet, God has given me one final season to seize each day that I am blessed to watch my son Daniel complete.
by Jay Mankus