Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Value in the Wrong Sport

Nick joined the cross country team today. No one told him that cross country is for kids that like to run, for kids that run with ease, for kids that are built of feathers and hollow bones.

Nick is built like a football player. When he was four, a man at the playground picked him up and hugged him, then held him high in the air. It freaked me out. It freaked Nick out, though I quickly saw what the story was. This man had brought two tiny girls to the park. They were all dressed in pink.  The man himself had a football build. His problem was that he was jealous of me with my little boy, my boy that was packed solid and broad-shouldered even at that age. Nick is still built like a brick shit-house, if you'll pardon the expression.

One of my mom friends used to harass me about getting Nick signed up for football. She was relentless and seemed to have nothing else she wanted to say to me unless it was about Nick playing football. She didn't seem to believe me when I told her we let Nick choose his own sports and he chose karate right then. I finally told her I'd discourage him from trying football if she couldn't stop bugging me. I'm happy to say that she and I are getting along fine now that her boy has filled out into a classic football build. We talk about all kinds of things now and I won't be surprised if someday Nick wants to play football.

In the meantime, cross country will be very good training for him. It will be good for his karate too if he sticks with that. I don't see cross country as his primary sport though, shot putt maybe, or he could become a caber toss champion in the highland games. Do you remember that NFL player they called 'the refrigerator' back in the mid-eighties?  I briefly dated a guy back then who watched football religiously.  That year, I saw about fifteen replays of Joe Theismann's knee being forcibly turned inside out.  And there was 'the refrigerator.'  These are the only scenes that I remember from that short season of watching football.  Man, that guy could run and he was built, well, like a refrigerator, like a brick shit-house.  My boy Nick is built that same way.

Nick's problem is that he has asthma and has never run fast. So Mike and I were shocked when he said he wanted to go for cross country. We think it was because his friend was going, but you can never tell with those kinds of decisions and who are we to tell him he can't?  At school, when I tried to sign him up on the first day of school, they discouraged him. They warned that it might be too much for him, that he might not be able to keep up with school work.  We told him to go ahead and join if that's what he wanted to do. Any amount of running would be good for his asthma as long as he paid attention to his breathing. It would be good for his karate. It would be good for his overall health.  It would make hikes easier for him, and, yes, it would be good for him if he ever plays football.

So, when I picked Nick up after practice today, I asked him how it went. 

"It was horrible.  I hated it," he said.  I looked at him in the rear view mirror.

"Oh honey," I said. "Did your shoes hurt?  Did you have trouble breathing?  What happened?"

"No, my shoes and my breathing were fine, but I was the slowest one.  I was in the back all by myself and when I came in, they all started cheering for me."

"Were they being mean?" I asked.  I wanted to cry.

"No, they were nice, but I don't like that much attention, especially not from big groups of people."

"Don't worry about what anyone thinks or says, Nick.  Just try to do better than you did the day before."

"I know Mom, but the coach said that until we can stick together, we have to stick to running around the school grounds.  I'm never going to get any faster and they'll all be stuck waiting around for me forever."

"Uh huh."  I didn't know what to say.

"But maybe one of them could run in the back with me.  Don't I have a right to do cross country if I want to?  Just because I have asthma..."

"You do," I interrupted.  "Can you try it again tomorrow?"

"Sure Mom," he said.  Later, when Mike asked him how it went, he said, "It was good, Dad."  And then, I did pop a few tears out, I was so proud of him. 

We'll see if he sticks with it.  I know it won't come naturally to him.  I could see that before he started.  But every day, it will be a little easier for him and every day he tries again will help his asthma, his health, his confidence, his karate, and maybe even football someday, but don't tell my mom friend that I said that. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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