A story about Jack. You decide if he is a great athlete…
Jack Tennison laced them up like he always did. Right shoe first, pull the tongue, straighten it, and then push it back down just a bit. Then he would cross the laces, pull hard and then back off just a bit and tie them in a double knot. He then took the knot and pushed it firmly under the laces between the eyes of his shoes. Now for the left. The only difference is that when this process was complete on the left side he would give both of his feet a good smack. As if to say, “okay boys, it’s time to do this.” And they knew. They have been doing “this” for a very, very long time.
Jack didn’t always have this routine. The first time he was able to lace up his own shoes had been some time ago. He was around 4 years old and already, he had loved to move. He didn’t care how and like most children unplanned and uncoordinated movement was enough to make anyone watching reminisce to the time they too were able to move freely. Free from aching joints, free from deadlines, and mostly free from ridicule or even perceived ridicule. That is the power in children though, to move in the most natural form without thought to the benefit of that movement. It could almost be a natural thing, to move.
Well Jack moved alright, awkwardly he ran to play with other kids every free chance he got. He grew as kids do and then movement wasn’t enough. You had to chase a ball, or run against someone, or hit a ball, or catch a ball, or swim fast, or kick a ball. Anyway, Jack didn’t know how to do these things. Movement wasn’t rewarded in his house no matter if he was chasing a ball or not, so he did what any kid does. He tried his hardest. The one thing he noticed about pretty much all of the things his peers were doing minus the swimming was running to get to that ball. So Jack set off to do just that. In his adolescent mind, if he could run better, he would be better. He laced up those shoes every day for the next 10 years and headed up to the track at the school by his house. He would run 12 laps on most days, sometimes a little less, some a little more. He knew he was getting better. Even more than that, he loved running. He would give himself credit where his parents and siblings would never. He was proud. During these years he would be rejected from every team he tried out for. You see, Jack wasn’t even really getting faster because he was just doing it for fun. He still at this point had no skills to speak of so rejection was the norm.
He heard every rejection possible.
“Sorry Jack, you just can’t catch well enough”
“Jack you are too slow”
“ You have to be able to dribble son.”
And those were just from the coaches. The rejections from his peers tore him from the same heart that gave his body the ability to move.
“Don’t pick him he’s clumsy.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
And the worst of them all, when pickings were slim.
“Do we have to take him?”
Jack still hadn’t made it to high school yet when athletics and being an athlete really meant something, to him. The same scenario played out in high school. He still religiously went to the track, laced them up, and ran his 12 laps. He still loved to move like this.
Then came the epiphany. There is a sport call cross country. All you have to do is run. He knew this was his shot. He could run if he could do anything. The team kept the top 50 runners in the school based on their performance in the 5k. Tryouts came. He went out and gave it his all. He felt great about running with peers and knew he had found his athletic calling. The coaches put the top 50 names on one sheet of paper. It was frustrating because everyone tried to view the sheet at once. He finally got to within reading distance and there is was, or wasn’t. His name was nowhere to be found. He was crushed.
Jack didn’t run again the rest of his high school life. As a matter of fact he didn’t run again for a very very long time. His heart knew he still wanted to run but everything and everyone around him decided he wasn’t made for this. This inherent ability to move. This God given gift of cardiovascular fitness and this bio mechanical miracle. So he didn’t.
This didn’t last long. There was something in Jack that knew he should move. He wouldn’t advertise that he did this every single day at the same track for a very, very long time. He would have ups and downs like any regular life that has ever been lived, but he would always find his peace in running those 12 laps. He came to terms that he would never be an amazing athlete. He would never be inspiring by just running 12 laps in 42 minutes. Yeah that’s the odd thing. Jack had been so in tune with his body that his pace never changed, never waivered. He never got hurt. He never missed from sickness and one year he even speed walked that same time when he had a broken wrist that was irritated from the bouncing of his running. A consistent fellow was Jack Tennison.
Where were we? Oh yes. Finally, shoes are laced and the “boys” are ready to go. Amazing that he had done this so many times, yet the comfort and energy it gave him was priceless. Jack walked around swinging his arms and lifting his chin to the warm summer breeze that morning. He would tilt his head back and breath in the warm air. He would imagine each breath as his last, this gave him the perspective he needed for todays run, and every day. He would of course be running his 12 laps in no time now.
This morning felt different though. What was it? There it was. There were people talking in the near distance. Then they were closer and then there were many. Jack was getting nervous he may miss his routine. What the heck are these people doing here he thought. Before it was all said and done there were about 60 or more people at the track. He was distracted so he delayed his own start. There were other men and women who looked like they were going to run on HIS track that morning. And they did. It didn’t feel formal at first but Jack just decided to run with them all. Just because a bunch of people decided to run at his track today didn’t mean he was going to miss his run. He had been doing this for a very, very long time.
About 65 runners in all started running at different times, at different paces. Jack just found some people that looked about like him and took off. He paid no attention to the others but the energy from other people definitely gave him a boost. He rounded the last lap and started over to his bag he dropped on the ground with his keys and extra shirt. He unlaced his shoes, and told them, “Well done boys.” Just as he had so many times before. He put on his other shoes grabbed his bag and started to walk off and head home.
“Sir, what was your number?” A younger man approached him and asked.
“My, number?” Said Jack
“Yes, your bib number.”
“Oh, i don’t have one of those.” Jack laughed. Finding it odd that he was so into his routine he didn’t realize the other bib numbers.
Jack turned again and continued on his way.
The man catches up again and says, “Sir would you like to know your time anyway?”
“No thanks, I already know it. I’ve been running this track for over 90 years and my time is always within 2 second of 42 minutes.”
The man looks down at his clipboard and eyes the time with the “000”, the man without a bib. He is amazed to see the time.
“That’s right, you ran a 41:58”
“Like I said.”
Jack really didn’t care at this point and was ready to head home.
The man was so caught up in the time Jack ran that something he said earlier finally clicked.
“Sir, wait one second please. Did you say you have been running this track for over 90 years? If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”
“I’m 96 years young.”
“96? Sir you just broke the world record by over a minute.” said the man.
“Well isn’t THAT something.”
Jack Tennison walked home that day with his head up, chin to the sky. He breathed that warm summer air like each was his last. For all he cared, it might as well have been.
NOTE: Jack Tennison is a fictional character created by Scott Jones of Athlete On Fire. Although he is not real, his inspiration is, get out there and find your track!