I didn’t take it too seriously the few times over the summer that Holly mentioned she might want to join her school’s cross-country team. I knew some of her friends were interested and figured that hearing them talk about it was fueling her interest, but it wasn’t clear to me that she even knew exactly what a cross-country team was – or, more importantly, that it involved running, something Holly has almost never been known to do.But when the date of the first meeting arose, she attended it, and when it was time for the first practice, she asked me to sign a permission slip and write a check. It turned out she really did plan to go through with it after all.
Now we’re four weeks into the season – about halfway through it – and to my surprise, Holly’s commitment hasn’t wavered yet. She puts in four afternoons a week at practices or meets. She generally doesn’t talk much about training regimens or race times; occasionally I wonder if to her, cross-country is essentially an extension of recess, a chance to wander through the woods while talking with her friends. At least that was the impression I got from her early descriptions of team practices.
But then recently, something changed. Though not a star runner, she discovered at the past few meets that she gets a better time when she tries hard, focuses on the course, and runs by herself rather than with her friends – and her times are actually not bad for a small fifth grade girl.
It’s been a lesson to me in taking her seriously when she says she wants to try something new. And much as I hope she develops a passion for running and an allegiance to this team, I was perhaps proudest of her a few days ago when she said offhandedly in answer to a question Tim asked that she very well might not sign up for the team again next year – four sessions per week just seems too time-consuming, she said. What made me proud was that this was the first I’d heard of her not being crazy about the strenuous schedule. Even though she’d been feeling that way all along, she took her commitment seriously, never voicing her misgivings to me or hinting that she might not last the season.
No, she’s planning to see it through. And even as I nurse a secret hope that with another few weeks to go, she’ll come to like it so much that she will in fact sign up again next season, it’s fine even if she doesn’t. She has discovered the very best part of running: a chance to de-stress while loping through the woods, by yourself or with a friend, caught up in silent reflection or in conversation. It might not be the best basis for a team sport, but it has carried her happily through half the season, and to my mind, that’s a fine start no matter what happens next time around.