Friday, October 14, 2011

Good sportsmanship powers the race to bupkis

Have you ever started a day with the best intentions, only to watch those intentions devolve into the reality that is you?

This happened to me a few weekends ago, when I decided to take part in the annual Ramble for Recovery 5K here in Roseburg. This race is held to raise awareness of those individuals in our community who are in recovery, as well as the individuals who work with them throughout that process. Worthy cause, right?

That’s what I thought.

The race was divided into two groups: the 5K walk and the 5K run. The runners went first, and the walkers started five minutes later.

Seeing that my best running occurs when I’m running from the car into the store in the rain, I decided to sign up for the walk.

Now mind you, I’ve done my fair share of races, but I’ve never had any possibility of winning a race … until this one.

I’ve prided myself on not being competitive athletically. (When it comes to board games, card games and intellectual challenges, however, all bets are off. I once drew blood during a rousing hand of Nerts.)

Never too old to surprise even myself, I was taken aback when that same desire to draw blood reared its ugly head at this 5K, directed toward the most unlikely adversary.

Out of the gate, I was in the front, experiencing the heady feeling of actually leading the pack for a change. About a half mile in, I was surprised to see that I was still in the lead. That is, except for one person who was ahead of me. He was a little boy who was walking in front of me and as soon as I got close to passing him he’d start running.

I walked behind him, amused at his gumption and sure he would wear himself out before we hit the duck pond, but when we were passing Fred Meyer he was still running to keep ahead of me.

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Eight,” he answered in between gasps for air.

“Oh, I have a nine year old daughter,” I said, trying to connect to him on his level. He didn’t bite. Instead he kept running ahead of me, then walking until I caught up again.

At this point, halfway through the race, I started thinking, “Hey, I could actually win this thing” and that competitive spirit started to rear its ugly head.

“So…” I asked, “Are you signed up for the walk or the run?”

“The walk,” he said matter-of-factly.

“THAT, young man, is not walking,” I said.

Let me point out here I was not proud of myself at this moment.

He smiled sheepishly, stopping to a walk. We walked side by side in silence for a while until he started running again.

“Still not walking” I sang.

“It’s just that I really want to win this race,” he said.

“You and me both,” I said.

Again, not one of my prouder moments.

As we came around the path toward the soccer fields, we continued our competitive dance. Just as I started to pass him he started to run again, looking behind to see how far he could get before walking.

Ah, well, I reasoned, at this point I could do with a second place medal. It was still better than anything I’d ever done before. And it was all for a good cause, right?

Plus imagine the story this kid could tell for the rest of his life … how he beat all the adults at his first 5K. And of course I wouldn’t be around to ruin his story by pointing out that he was cheating, which is a win-win for him.

So I settled in toward the finish line happy with my second-place finish as he ran toward the end. At the very last moment, however, a man came up from behind and passed me. Whodawa? Where did he come from? Did he take a cab to the finish line and jump out a moment ago?

Never mind … tra-la-la … third place medal will have to do, or so I thought.
When all was said and done, I discovered that some woman was WAY ahead of me, so she took the first place medal, the little 8-year-old “walker” took the second-place medal, the cab-riding cheater took third, and I got bupkis.

Thank goodness there wasn’t a Good Sportsmanship Award, or I may have had to wrestle someone to the ground for that one.

Instead I soothed my bruised ego with a banana and a free t-shirt. I’m thinking about using a black Sharpie to write “winner” on the back, but that seems overly competitive, which I am not.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and loses races to eight year olds in Roseburg. She can be reached at or you can follower her on Twitter at EBurmeister.

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