The true meaning of ‘competition’

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I’ve been asked if running is “competition” for Harrison. This only fueled a deeper personal examination already under way in my own process. If we look at the root meaning of the word “competition,” we find its basis in the classical Latin, “competere,” which means to ”strive in common,” or “strive together.”

In these past few weeks we’ve traveled literally more than 1,000 miles to track meets in small towns all over our region, and I’ve had plenty of time and fuel for thought to ponder this question of what competition really means.

As he crossed the finish line in his first very successful run in the 1600-meters (aka “the mile”) at Mosca, Harrison loudly blurted out, “I beat Joey!” I quickly pointed out that this was not a cool or sportsmanlike way to note your own success, especially in relation to your own teammate and friend. But it did speak to a recognition of competition in what has warped into our society’s conventional sensibility.

This initial run led the way into a more meaningful season of challenges as Harrison experienced the true spirit of what it means to compete. He also runs the 400-meter and the 800-meter. The fact is I never know what’s going to happen coaching him in these things. 

As the season went on I’ve watched him freak out at starting lines. I’ve seen him run the first lap of the 1600 faster than he’s ever run a 400, then fade to last place. I’ve seen him finish strong and I’ve seen him completely lose his mind in a race.

I’ve seen the support of his teammates and fellow competitors, some of whom he’s been running against for three years. I’ve also seen the puzzled looks from people who don’t know the real challenges he’s facing down when he toes a starting line. The real race for him is not so much physical as it is mental.

In this lifetime I’ve had the good fortune myself to win some races, and I’m here to tell you that the feeling is great but it vanishes just like the proverbial lightning caught in a bottle. The competitions you really remember are those in which you learned something about yourself. The true athlete is competing with him/herself. And this is really what Harrison is doing.

This week we traveled to a track meet in the tiny town of Elbert in the rolling Ponderosa-topped hills northeast of Colorado Springs. This is a new meet on our school’s circuit, with teams from several schools we’ve never competed with previously. Harrison got a great start in the 1600 but rounding the second curve in the first lap he suddenly snapped under the pressure of hanging with the pack. He faded back, stomped and screamed. He yelled at the spectators who were encouraging him, many of them teammates and others who had no idea of his challenges. During all this I ran back and forth across the field, encouraging him onward.

Despite putting more energy into his tantrum than actual forward movement, he finished the race. Following this he threw an amazing fit, flailing about, yelling he was a terrible runner and saying wanted to go home. But then when I said “let’s go” he didn’t really want to leave.

After he calmed down a little we watched the girls’ 1600. In this race there was a blind athlete. She was running tethered wrist-to-wrist with a guide/coach. She was bringing up the rear but a true competitor through and through. We watched her run past the bleachers and the spectators shouted out encouragement just as they had wth Harrison. I could not help but draw parallels — in some ways Harrison is running “blind” even though he can see just fine.

He rallied to run solidly in the 400 and the 800. Then we watched the blind girl run again in the 800. It was an amazing Deep Sport experience and it gave us both a fresh perspective on what “competition” truly means.

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