There are few things in life that I dislike more than driving long distances by myself. One of those things is waking up at 6 am. So when I was asked to be a counselor at the Furman Cross Country Camp in Greenville, South Carolina last week, I was a little hesitant. After finally convincing myself that it was a good opportunity, not to mention that I needed the money, I loaded up my little, silver car and set out to conquer my fear of long distance driving across the rugged mountains of North Carolina.
Upon arrival, I was assigned to running group #5, a group of kids who were mid to slower speed in the camp and ranged from ages 12- 17. The first run was a little rough. I, being used to running with my quick teammates, pushed the pace a little more than I should have as the kids dragged sluggishly behind. While many of the kids looked beat afterward, I noticed one girl standing in the corner, fresh-faced and laughing with her friend. "How was it?" I inquired. "Okay," she replied sheepishly, but I could see it in her eyes that she had more to give. As the week moved along, I kept track of the girl during our runs. During each run, she would hang in the back of the pack with her friend, but at the conclusion would be hardly breathing or sweating.
On one of the last mornings of camp, the campers were required to complete a tempo run. This is a faster paced run lasting for about 20 minutes used to improve lactate threshold. Before the run, I pulled the girl aside. "Stay with me today, okay?" I told her. She hesitated, nervous, and retorted "I don't think I can." "Please just try it, and if you need to drop then you can." She nodded her head and we were off. I heard her quickened footsteps and light breathing beside me as we set off down the narrow, paved path. The minutes ticked by as we fell into a peaceful rhythm, her little legs keeping up with my pace perfectly. With just five minutes left, the girl began to drop back. "Come on stay with me!" I commanded her. "Hold on," she replied easily, falling back to the rest of the pack of runners behind her. "Let's go guys! Push it, only 5 more minutes," she told the group and to my amazement, my runners began to pick up the pace. I don't know if it was seeing one of their own improving or the motivating words, but every single one of those runners completed the run next to me, something I never expected to happen during the course of camp.
I went to camp hoping to instill some of my passion for running in the kids attending camp. Never did I expect to learn something so much more important myself. There is a coach in all of us. We each possess the ability to teach and motivate whether we are 9 or 90. The sense of camaraderie developed through shared hardship in the running community is palpable, and has always been one of my favorite aspects of running. I just never imagined that it would take a 12 year old to remind me of this.