An Unrequited Gift

So much of my life has involved running. To me, it's an interest, a hobby, and a form of meditation. It's provided me with rich experiences, college scholarships, and a means by which to control my blood sugar and adjust to my diabetes. It's a means by which I've met new friends and a glorious source of therapeutic solitude. Suffice it to say, running has had a profound impact on every important aspect of my life.

What's interesting about this is that I was inspired to run by someone who, to my knowledge, was never interested in running and who, after inspiring me to run in the first place, never again ran much of anything at all.

It was the last day of school, at the end of my second grade year. The day kicked-off with a one-mile race from the top of the hill, down Main Street, finishing at the school. Almost every student in the school used to run this race. Afterward, I found my way to my classroom, and the only other people there were my teacher, and another student we'll call BD.

The teacher asked us what place we finished in the race. Since BD had finished before me, she asked him first. I remember the look on his face as though it was yesterday. He had an enormous smile on his face, and his eyebrows were raised in surprise, pleasure, and pride. He was beaming as he declared, "Eighteen!"

That's remarkable. It's remarkable that a second-grader would finish so far ahead of so many of the other students in the school, including a substantial number of students who were as much as five years older than he was. (He was eight years old at the time.) Keep in mind that in our school the typical class size was about thirty students, and each grade level had about three classes each. So, every grade consisted of about 100 students. This means that a second-grader who places 18th in a school-wide race has managed to out-run no less than 80% of the entire field of sixth-graders, plus however many fifth-, fourth-, and third-graders he bested.

I remember hearing this and being impressed. But I also remember thinking to myself, "I bet I could do that..." Or perhaps I wondered whether I could do that. I do remember going home and telling my mother that BD had ran so well, and I remember that she told me I could do it. Whatever the particulars of my thoughts, that was the day I was inspired to become a runner, to take running seriously, and to actually try to excel at it as a sport, rather than just something I did.

Arguably, that day - and in particular, the fact that BD ran so well that day - has affected every day of my life since. I owe BD an eternal debt of gratitude for the mere fact that he ran well. Clearly, BD had a gift, a talent for running. I went on to be the kid in my community who was known as a great long-distance runner, but how might life have been different if BD had attended to his gift? Would we have inspired each other to run faster? Would he have smashed all my best running times? Would we have become good friends?

Alas, BD's talent for running proved to be an unrequited gift. As I mentioned above, he did not pursue an interest in running over the years, at least not to my knowledge. He went to my high school, so if he had been interested in the track team, I would have known. For sports, he was always more in basketball, football, and baseball. Later, I believe his interests turned to hunting and the great outdoors. I have not communicated with him since I was a child.

Yet, he had a profound impact on my life, and I wonder how great a runner he might have been, had he received more encouragement to develop his gift. I suppose that should have been my responsibility, as thanks for his having inspired me to become the person I became, and I failed him in a way. A child can't be blamed for lacking the wisdom of an adult, but perhaps one of the downsides of being shy is that one can never properly pay back the many debts we owe to people who inspired us along the way.

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