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March 8, 2006

The 5K Kid

My first workout after Sunday’s marathon was a half-mile jog with my 7-year-old son on Monday afternoon. As luck would have it, we’re both training for a race on the same day.

The Big Sur International Marathon (BSIM) also hosts a 5K on race morning while the marathon runners make their way up Highway 1 toward the finish line in Carmel. The 5K runners cross the same finish line as the marathoners, and partake in all the post-race festivities.

The BSIM board has a strong commitment to youth fitness programs, and the 5K was created for local elementary and middle school students to participate with family members. To encourage increased involvement, the BSIM gives financial grants to all schools who participate, and additional monetary awards for schools with the largest percentage of students who enter.

This is the first year that my son has entered, and I couldn’t be more proud of him - but not for the reason you think. It’s not because he’s acting like me, but because of how unlike me he is.

In grade school, I was the kid on every team, who played sports all day long whenever possible. My son is about the most unathletic kid you’ll ever meet. He likes watching some games, but has absolutely no inkling to join a team or practice any particular skills. And believe me, it’s not for lack of trying.

Over the past few years we have introduced all manner of sports to him, all of which were met with a response that was lukewarm at best. We’ve kicked the soccer ball around in the park, played catch (OK, more like throw-and-chase) at the little league field, played kickball and four square at the playground, and shot baskets in the gym.

We have countless sporting goods collecting dust in various locations of the house and yard, each having failed to capture his interest for more than a few days.

(The only exceptions are that he enjoys swimming, and loves riding his bike. If only there was a sport that incorporated those things…Hmmm…let me think…)

The inevitable side effect is that he has terrible coordination and body awareness, and the rare occasions that he tries athletic activities are extremely awkward for him. The one time he went to a track meet with me, he couldn’t stay in his lane during the 60-meter dash because he was weaving so much from side to side.

So one of the last things I expected him to do was to sign up for a 5K race.

There are other aspects of my son I haven’t yet described. For a second-grader, he’s as compassionate and considerate as a kid can get. He believes that everyone should be regarded with love and acceptance, and he truly doesn’t understand why anyone would act differently.

One reason he dislikes sports is because he often sees other classmates breaking the rules during playground games, and he doesn’t like seeing any kid take advantage of another. He doesn’t have much competitive desire, and thinks that games should be played for everyone’s enjoyment, instead of keeping score or remembering who wins.

He helped organize a rummage sale at our church for tsunami victims last year, and after Hurricane Katrina he worked at another sale at his elementary school to raise money for refugees. In both cases, he lobbied my wife and I to give additional donations to relief efforts as well.

So when he learned that the 5K was a fundraiser for the school, he was in. Nevermind that he could barely run a lap without stopping or tripping over himself. He’s a humanitarian.

We’ve now scheduled one day each week to practice running together, to hopefully develop a little stamina and efficiency in his stride before taking to the start line of his race next month. And on the day after my marathon, he was running at just my speed.

But on race day, while I’m obsessed with maintaining a specific time, he probably won’t even look at his watch. While I’m utilizing all of the course support in my own self-interest, he’ll be thinking of how his efforts will help students in his school. When I’m done with the marathon and parsing every minor detail for ways to improve, he’ll forget all about the 5K and move on to some other interesting cause.

Sometimes as his father I’ve wondered why he isn’t more like me. But more often I’ve asked myself why I’m not more like him instead.


olga 3/8/06, 9:28 AM  

You have a wonderful kid, thanks for sharing. All the best to him. And to you too:)

backofpack 3/8/06, 9:31 AM  

I wonder..."The inevitable side effect is that he has terrible coordination and body awareness, and the rare occasions that he tries athletic activities are extremely awkward for him." Could it be the other way around? Could he be one of those kids who's physical development and coordination will come a little later?

Our younger son loved sports - loved, loved, loved. However, he was gawky and awkward, and I didn't think coordination would ever come. He joined in every sport the Y offers to kids, played with enthusiasm and gusto and klutziness. (He is a lot like his Mom in this regard!) The good news is that about 13 or so, the coordination started to come. Now he's a three year letterman in cross country, a high-jumper, a lifeguard and swim instructor. He is also a low-key, laid back delightful kid.

Some of our greatest times are when we all head out to a local race. It's so wonderful to introduce your child to the running community and to share their passion for a sport.

Your son sounds like a great kid. Those training runs together are likely to become the highlight of your week! I predict that you will be learning a lot from him...

stronger 3/8/06, 10:00 AM  

I got all choked up with your last sentence.

Anne 3/8/06, 2:27 PM  

A kid after my own heart. Sounds like you and your wife are raising a future leader who will make a difference.

robtherunner 3/9/06, 6:20 PM  

I think the world would be a much better place if we were all humanitarians.

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