What I Learned From the Girl in Last Place

My daughter ran for her high school cross-country team for three years. Up until that point my only experience with sports involved watching my kids play traditional "team" sports like soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. I'd sit on the sidelines cheering obnoxiously for my child's team and shouting much-appreciated suggestions to the referees.

It wasn’t until I attended my daughter's first cross-country meet, however, that I witnessed true team spirit and discovered an interesting metaphor between a cross-country runner and my writing life. And it was all because of the girl in last place.

In case you're unfamiliar with cross-country races, they’re 5K races that are run…well, across country. Through woods, over fields, up hills, down hills, in the pouring rain, under the beating sun, occasionally even through snowstorms. These runners are relentless. They are powerful. They are awe-inspiring.

During that first race, runners flew by the waiting crowds at different points along the route. I was surprised then delighted by the reactions of the spectators. EVERY parent of EVERY team cheered for EVERY runner. It was such a refreshing change from the usual "Hurrah my team," "Boo your team" and stay on your side of the 50-yd. line please.

Eventually, spectators converged along either side of the finish line. Amid cheers, the top runners sprinted past, followed by clusters of mid-level runners and finally the slower runners straggled in. Several minutes passed and figuring the race was over, I went to find my daughter. Then I heard someone say, "I see her. Here she comes." Curious, I squeezed back into the crowd and squinted up the trail. Sure enough, one lone runner topped the hill in the distance. Coming in dead last, she continued her run at a slow, rhythmic pace.

She entered that final stretch and the crowd--which hadn't moved--went wild. Whistles, cheers and thunderous applause followed in her wake. I felt ridiculous tears well up in my eyes. I didn't even know this girl. But the sense of accomplishment that shone from her face as she crossed that finish line was like the glow of a candle flame filling a once darkened room.

Later, I asked my daughter about the girl and learned that she was a much-loved team member who almost always came in last place. This girl's single-minded goal was to finish every race and achieve her personal best, no matter what anybody else did.

I tried to imagine what that must be like. To stand ready at the starting line of a race and know you will not win. That you will most likely lose, and lose big. Yet to show up race after race and run anyway. And finish. Despite what the scorebook says, the girl in last place is the true winner. And I use her philosophy as inspiration in my writing life.

I'm just finishing up the first draft of my first attempt at writing a novel on my own. And I now realize that writing my novel is much like running a cross-country race. (For one thing, it's much harder than it looked from the sidelines!) And I used to think that crossing the finish line meant getting it published. (Still something I plan to do!) But I take joy in the simple process of creating. And I take great pride in finishing this first draft. Many of my writer friends may have started running the race after me and yet are far ahead of me on the trail, but I hold the image of that girl in my mind. No matter what anybody else is doing, I will continue to run my own race, continue striving for my personal best. I will finish. And when I do, I win.

Image by: Dru Bloomfield


Susan R. Mills said...

What a great lesson from the girl in last place. Inspiring.

Laura Pauling said...

Great analogy. I love how the crowds cheered for everyone! Esp. the girl in the last place.

Angies Photos, Blogs, etc. said...

I like your writing and style and loved this analogy! I related to it, not just because I was always the slowest in my class, :) but also because I have some that are critical of my photography and realized that it's all subjective I just need to keep pushing on!

Mitzi said...

Thank you for sharing this great lesson! One marathon runner I know says it is all about achieving the goal you have set for yourself...not what place you finish! I have also heard writing a book is like giving birth! Would you agree??

Name: Holly Bowne said...

Yes, Mitzi! I would definitely agree that there are similarities to writing a novel and giving birth. And now that my first draft is done, I've entered the "revising" part where I need to maintain my focus and keep breathing!

Heidi Willis said...

I don't know how i missed this post. In fact, it looks like I missed a whole week or two! Where have I been, buried with my head in the sand??

This is a spectacular post. I actually got tears in my eyes. And a great analogy... to writing, and to life.