I came to the sport of running late in life. Though I ran on my high school track team, I hung my running shoes up for many years until the strain of sleepless nights and baby weight became too much for me. In my early thirties, I dusted off on my running shoes and I ran away from home as often as I could. For me, running has been a salvation, a source of social interaction with friends and an activity that I’ve done just for me.
As I’ve raised my kids, I’ve wanted to set an example of healthy living. I wanted my kids to see me putting my health first and making my emotional wellbeing a priority. It was important for my kids to see that I have hobbies and interests outside of driving them to basketball practice and sewing patches onto Boy Scout uniforms.
Though I’ve always tried to keep my hopes and aspirations for my kids to myself because I never want either of my teens to pursue something just because they want to please their parents, I’ve always secretly hoped that one of my kids would follow in my footsteps. Quite literally, in fact.
I always hoped that one of my kids would take an interest in the sport I’ve come to love.
My teenage daughter has done just that this past year.
And it takes my breath away when I see her at cross country practice.
For me running is never easy. I huff and puff, I swear, I complain. And I hate dragging myself out of bed on cold winter mornings to run a few miles before the sun rises. And the casual observer would never call my running gait “effortless” or “gazelle like.” If I’m being honest, I look more like an exasperated elephant when I’m pounding the pavement but I do it because, frankly, I need something to save my hips from my love of ice cream.
But, my teen daughter runs effortlessly. She’s focused and she moves her body across the mileage with an ease that I’ve never had, even when I was her age. As early as kindergarten, her gym teachers noticed her skill. As she grew, we enrolled her on local running teams and she’d run alongside my husband and I when we’d enter 5K races. And she’d beat the pants off of us every time.
But, we never pushed her to choose running as a competitive sport. We quietly watched as she’d outrun her brother on playgrounds, long ponytail flying behind her, and smile.
Our daughter is shy and introverted and it’s been a challenge to find an activity that doesn’t feel emotionally taxing for her. Over the years, as we’ve watched her running talent blossom, she would tell us that running is where she feels the most comfortable in her skin. Running is a solitary sport and it suits her just fine.
Recently, she came home from a grueling cross country practice, cheeks flushed and eyes bright. They’d run a timed mile during practice and she was the fastest one, beating the boys and the other girls on the team by a good margin. “Mom,” she said, “I’ve never felt good at anything until today. Today, I realized how much I love running. I feel good about myself when I am on the track.”
My heart skipped a beat and my eyes filled with tears.
When your kid realizes they have a passion for something and you can see it in their eyes, it’s one of those moments you wish you could bottle up and hold onto for those days when they are hurting because of mean girls or a tough grade on a test.
To hear your child declare that she feels good about herself makes you want to stop time. It makes you want to grab onto her, hold her in your arms and say, “Please don’t ever forget how you feel right now.”
Because being a teenager these days is hard. And the stresses of walking through the halls of high school aren’t easy for parents of our generation to understand. So, when we see a teen who has a passion, who is working hard to build on their talents, we need to remember that they need these big moments. The ones where they feel like they are kings of the hill. It’s not bragging. It’s building self esteem for those days when they will inevitably be knocked down a few pegs.
Every parent wants to see their child succeed at something. Whether we hope they’ll foster an obvious art talent or they excel at playing a sport, every parent at one time or another has sat in a dance studio, in a grandstand or in the audience and has secretly hoped their child will be the next big star.
I’m just as guilty as the next parent, believe me.
But, on hot summer evenings, when I’m chasing my daughter, watching her ponytail sway on her back, I realize that I’m watching her run into her future with confidence and taking life in her stride. She’s kicking asphalt both on and off the road and it’s amazing to watch her build self esteem.
And, though I’ll never be able to keep up with her, her smile as she looks over her shoulder to see if I’m still there is worth more to me than any medal I’ve ever earned at a finish line.