The last several weeks I haven’t been to any waterfalls, and I’ve done only a small amount of writing. I’ve been spending my time at track meets and softball games. You see, my two teen girls have been immersed in their spring sports, and my focus has been on encouraging them and being at their events to support them. While I may not have had time to hike to waterfalls, watching my daughters pursue their passions has definitely taught me about the value of our dreams.
We had two sports going on in our household: track and softball.
Katie (a junior) did track, and Natalie (a freshman) was on both the track and softball teams. This was Katie’s first year of track in high school, and while she hoped to do well, her main focus when she started was on keeping in shape and gearing up for cross-country season.
Natalie did softball throughout middle school and loved every moment of it. But when she did track during her last year of middle school she found that she had a natural ability at the long jump. Now in high school, track and softball season are at the same time. Natalie didn’t want to give up either one, so she decided her main focus would be softball, and that she would primarily focus on the long jump on the days she went to track practice.
Everything changed with a new track coach. Katie, who considers her running ability to be, as she puts it, “the one thing I’m good at,” listened with an aching heart as the coach told her younger sister that not only were Natalie’s long jump skills impressive for her age, but that she had a natural runner’s build, amazing raw talent, and with the proper coaching she could count on being drafted by a Division I school by her senior year. That alone was what parenting books like to call a ‘teachable moment” in Katie’s life: how to be happy for someone when they receive by mere luck or genetics something you have longed and worked toward.
Natalie at first shrugged off the accolades of the running coach. Then halfway through the season she was placing for both the long jump and the 400 meter race. At the same time, her softball skills didn’t seem to be improving. She was torn. In her dreams up to that point, she longed to go to college on a softball scholarship, as unlikely as it seemed. Now she was being told she may make her way to college on the track field.
“What do you want to do?” I asked her. “Because in the end, what matters is that you enjoy what you are doing.” Natalie’s response: “I just want to be good at something.”
Don’t we all?
My chest ached as I watched her play her last softball game of the season. I could tell by her lack of focus on the field that her heart was no longer in it. I grieved the death one of her dreams. My prayer is that she will find as much joy in running as she does in sliding into home base.
Katie in the meantime suffered with what we believed were shin splints the entire season, but her run times persistently got better. Her coach told me that he had seldom seen someone who worked as hard as Katie. Did she have the potential that he saw in Natalie? Probably not. But she gave her whole heart to running. Katie started out the season running the 1500 and 3000 meter race, the natural choice for a long-distance runner. But she noticed that her split time (i.e., the halfway mark) for the 1500 was significantly less than the winning time of her teammate for the 800 meter race. At the next meet, she took a chance and ran the 800 instead of the 3000. She won.
Eventually the pain in her legs forced her to give up all races except the 800 meter, but focusing on that one race proved providential. She placed second in district and made it to the state championships – in an event she never even intended to race! She dreamed of standing on the podium and accepting a medal, but it was not to be. A week before the state meet we found out her “shin splint” was actually a stress fracture. My driven daughter had been running on a broken tibia most of the season.
Natalie also did well at the district meet, and placed third in the long jump. She was just one placement away from going to state, an impressive accomplishment for a 5’1” Freshman who took track as her second choice sport.
At the end-of-the-year of sports awards ceremony, the track coach boasted of Natalie’s raw, natural talent. He said, “if she would just believe in herself” her potential was stellar. When he spoke of Katie, the one word that came up again and again was courage. Courage to keep going, to push through the pain. Courage to not give up.
Our dreams. Some have to die so that others can live. One person can speak hope to us and change our direction. Sometimes if we want something bad enough hard work will get us there even if we don’t have “natural” talent. Our drive pushes us through the pain. If we can just believe in ourselves, we’ll reach our full potential.
And love and courage carries us to the finish line.