DD2 = Dear second daughter
DD2’s discouragement in track
DD2 is a track athlete, and two Wednesdays ago, I went to watch her race the 800m. It had been 3 years since she had run a personal best of 2:06.17, and that night, she was determined to break her record. Since 2015, she seemed to be stuck at 2:08. There had been reasons for the long plateau: injuries; a difficult decision to change coaches; more injuries; adjustment to a new training style … But she was finding it frustrating.
To qualify for Canadian Nationals next month, DD2 had to run a 2:06.00, and she had never felt more ready than she did that Wednesday evening. Hopeful and tense, I watched her line up, wait for the starter’s gun … and take off! She raced beautifully! Long, powerful strides brought her to a second place finish, and no matter what her time was, I thought she must be happy and proud. I certainly was!
Her room-mate, who was volunteering at the meet, knew better. “She won’t be happy with that,” she said. DD2’s time was a season’s best – by a few hundredths of a second – but not a personal best: 2:08.54.
I could see that DD2 was crying as her coach talked with her. I waited for her to come and talk to me, and when she did, she cried some more.
“I know it’s hard for you to understand, but I haven’t gone better than 2:08 for 3 years,” she explained. “And I don’t know why. I’m feeling stronger, more fit, happier, more confident than I’ve ever felt before, so I don’t understand it. I don’t know what more I can do – or if I can even do this anymore.”
Her coach had advised her not to make any decisions right away, and I agreed. And though I’m not at all qualified to coach, I decided to speak as a mom. “You ran beautifully,” I said. “I loved watching you race.”
Open to counsel
As I drove her home, DD2 was OK with me speaking more. “Your running is a gift, and it shouldn’t make you sad,” I said. “Slower runners were a lot happier than you were tonight.” I warned her against letting her self-worth get tied up in her track results. “Your value isn’t impacted by it.” I advised her not to quit, but to give it her best for the remaining weeks of this summer’s track season. “If you don’t manage to get a new personal best, you can decide to stop if you like. There’s no shame in that. Everyone stops at some point. Whether you qualify for Nationals or not – whether you stop or keep training – you’ll know that you gave it your all.”
Competitive sports can bring with them an element of torture. Today’s personal best becomes the new benchmark that must be surpassed. The high of success doesn’t last for long, and there is no permanent satisfaction in a constant craving for better. Elite athletes have to have the mental capacity to balance fiercely ambitious effort with a humble grace. No one’s season lasts forever. Ideally an athlete walks away, forward into the next chapter, with a developed confidence, great memories, finely-tuned self-discipline, and the experience of achieving potential. I didn’t want DD2 to walk away with anything less.
Moving forward …
DD2 had a long talk with her coach, and she decided to keep training at least until the season’s end. She sent an email about it to me. “… up until Nationals, I’m going to be the best athlete I can be – better than before (you helped plant this idea in my head) … I will never skip a long run, a cool-down, or give less than 100% at practice. I won’t drink … I’ll eat exceptionally well, over-hydrate, get enough sleep. And when I step on that start line, I won’t hold anything back.”
After a race a week later, I was relieved to see a change in DD2’s outlook – despite unchanged results. “I raced Wednesday night. I won in 2:08.42. A season’s best, and obviously 2:08 AGAIN. I am getting better by a tiny bit each time – but nonetheless I’m moving in the right direction. I’m ready for that time to drop any day now.”
The Ontario Track and Field Championships are taking place this weekend in Toronto, and DD2’s race was this afternoon. The meet is live-streamed, and so I was able to watch her event from home. Her seed time was the second slowest in the fastest of 3 heats. There she was on my laptop monitor, ready to start. When the gun went off, I could’t sit down! I had to stand and pace and jump and talk to the screen through the whole race. She ran beautifully! 7th seed but 5th place – in both her heat and the Championships.
I continued to watch her on my laptop, and I saw her straining to see her time along with the other racers. And then … big smile! Hands raised in victory! When the times went up on the screen for live-stream viewers like me, I saw why she was so happy: 2:05.42. After 3 years, DD2 had achieved a new personal best! And she has qualified for Nationals!
Exhausted but happy runner after today’s race with her proud coach
A mother’s hope
Of course I hope that in two weeks at Nationals, DD2 will do her best run ever, but ultimately, my greatest hope is that this experience will impact the content of her character. In a vulnerable moment, DD2 was transparent, not hardened; and instead of shutting down, she was receptive to counsel. She chose to face discouragement with patience and perseverance. And she got to experience the reward of her wise choices in a way that I believe will give her more than a transient high of athletic success. It’s a reward I hope she will experience again and again in the years to come – even long after her track career is over – as different challenges come her way from all facets of life.
But for the short-term, I’ll enjoy her new personal best and her ticket to compete with the fastest runners in the country. I’ll keep you posted 🙂
Have you experienced the difference between quitting as a reaction and stopping as a proactive choice? Have you ever made the decision to persevere through tough times? Was that perseverance rewarded? Is there ANY connection between this story and debt-reduction? Your comments are welcome.