Runner Boy ran a 5:57 mile yesterday to close out his first middle school cross country season. That was a goal almost 2 years in the making.
Runner Boy LOVES running. He fell in love when he was only five years old. He finds his zone and just runs. Sometimes when I watch him from afar, it looks like he could just run forever. He loves to run fast too. To push himself. It’s a skill that a child has to develop. Pushing to the brink of pain and discomfort, welcoming that pain and discomfort like a friend, and riding it out until the finish line.
He’s had some ups and downs with running the last two years. That’s what happens when your best friend and the woman who watched you become a runner passes away. John and his NuhNuh had a special relationship. She was the first person outside of Mr. Neon and I to welcome him to the world. She was there when he was born. It wasn’t planned. She was just in the room when I started pushing and neither Mr. Neon or I felt she should leave. She was supposed to be there.
When I arrived at Runner Boy’s meet yesterday, I was greeted with a hug. I watched him zone out, do his stretches, lost in his own world, almost ignoring his own teammates. He asked me to put on his bib. “You do it better than I do. You are my good luck.”
I hugged him when he went off to the starting line. “I’ll run for you, Mom. I love you.” I felt my nervous energy build. And for once, I was thankful that he didn’t have any. Maybe after two years of struggling, he had finally figured this run thing out.
The gun went off, and I started my stopwatch on my phone. It was windy, but cool. A beautiful early fall day. If the PR was going to happen, it was going to happen today. Coach was sure breaking six was going to happen. His confidence eased my nerves only slightly. I had picked up the pieces from a missed PR too many times.
In the past, Runner Boy has expressed annoyance, anger, and frustration when Mr. Neon or I, or even his coaches, have yelled at him while he’s running. When he emerged from the trees, I was tempted to hold my voice. But I didn’t. I hollered, “Keep it up. Drive. Drive!”
I ran across the field, towards the finish line, my eyes on the ticking stopwatch. It was going to be close. I yelled “Go, John! GO!” Instead of watching his shoulders contract in frustration, I watched him pick up his cadence, flying, and holding off the runners on his heels.
I hit stop and looked down at my phone. Mr. Neon ran to me and said, “I think he did it!” I couldn’t speak. I just held the phone out towards him. We both rushed over to John and showed him his time. The elation on his face was indescribable. It’s an image I will save in my memory bank forever.
He ran happy. He ran hard. He worked for the joy of the finish line. He ran for the long desired sub-6 mile. He congratulated every teammate. He was present. He enjoyed the moment.
What no one else saw was the ugly cry session I had in the car on the way home. Runner Boy went home with Mr. Neon. Tiny Boy asked for my hand and held it while I cried. She’s not here and she should have been there. She loved to watch him run, and she feared he would give it up because he sometimes forgot how to run happy. I’m glad her fear didn’t come true.