December 1, 2010
Raka’s senior season on the cross-country team did not start of well for her. She had a knee injury that caused her to lose nearly six weeks of practice, but eventually when she was back running, it was a delight to see her run with friends. The first few races were tough. Raka knew she was capable of a faster time but there was a limit to what she could attain with her healing knee. She progressed through the season and did better with every race and was ready and feeling good when the last race of the season arrived.
The weekend before the final race I realized that this would be Raka’s last cross-country race in high school. Though I was sad I was absolutely determined to enjoy every moment of it.
The morning of the race, I visited the 5k track and ran/walked the whole course to identify my opportunity points – points where I would be able to see Raka and then dash to my next point. Even if I was allowed to run with her I could not keep pace, so I identified the points to be the starting line, mile 1.1, mile 2.1, the last 400 yards, and of course the finish line.
The afternoon of the race was the most beautiful running day in Denver, ever. It was sunny, in the 70’s, and all the runners were bubbling with enthusiasm. Just before the race, Raka dashed to me, gave me a hug and whispered to me, “Dad, this is my last race.” I gave her a tight hug and then she was off to warm-up with her friends.
Hundreds of girls started the race together. Raka was focused. As the runners took off, I dashed with my camera on a monopod to my first opportunity point. As I stood at opportunity point #1, Raka came through 15 seconds before my anticipated time. She looked happy, she looked pain free, and she was pacing with another classmate of hers. I took my pictures and then dashed over the to 2.1 mile mark.
As I ran across to the 2.1-mile opportunity point, I realized I was not the only parent who saw it as an opportunity point. We parents had our own race to get the same spot. Raka was there, this time 20 seconds ahead of time. I could see that this was Raka’s day, she was going to have her best run ever. I yelled for her, encouraging her to give her best and finish strong. Raka was still pacing with her classmate.
As I moved to the finish line to catch the last 400 yards of the race, I saw Raka still pacing with her friend, and then both finished the race within microseconds of each other. I went across and gave her a big smile. I was so proud of her. I was happy that she was out running, as during the time her knee was injured, I only dreamt of this moment.
Then I had to open my mouth.
I asked her, “ Why did you hold back? You could have finished another 45 seconds faster. You looked strong today, why did hold back in the last mile?”
A sweating Raka looked at me as she stretched her upper body. “Dad,” she said, “You realize that all season my friend and I have competed to be the best of the JV group in our school. Today was her last race too. Yes, you are right, I could have finished faster, but I felt today neither she nor I deserved to lose. So we ran together. And together we passed more runners than we have each done on our own before.” With that she finished her stretches and joined her other friends as they went on to cheer the runners in the next race.
I was quick to capture on my camera the moment of her walking away after the last cross-country race. As I did that, the meaning of Raka’s words hit me. “Today neither one of us deserved to lose” and “together we passed more runners than we have each done on our own before.”
Wow, I told myself. That is simply brilliant. But what struck me more was Raka being in the moment, realizing this and acting on it. Many I times, when I think back at life, in hindsight, I come up with things that I could have done differently. But thinking back is different from acting in the present. Raka simply did that.
I guess the opportunity points were more than an opportunity to take photographs of my daughter. It taught me a valuable lesson in life.