I had never done a Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Zombie Run, or any other kind of run before a couple weekends ago.
My seven-year-old son, James, was signed on to race in a 1K as part of Schenectady, New York’s Stockade-A-Thon, and he wanted me to do it with him.
For experienced runners, that isn't a great distance.
But for first graders, or the average adult with a first grader, it's not the easiest run either.
In fact, more parents watched rather than joined in, standing on the sidelines with their piping, hot cups of Starbucks coffee - some grasping bagels smothered with cream cheese, and some standing apart from the crowd, holding cigarettes in their non-coffee-laden hands.
18 months ago, I would have been among the bagel-wielding variety, munching on the dense, chewy bread and sipping hot chocolate piled with a mountain of whipped cream, and chocolate shavings, but not at this race.
We waited among the other runners, in the brisk autumn air, for the race to start.
I looked at James, my best little guy, standing in his bright, orange hoodie with his pinnie jauntily askew.
Written openly on his reddened face was a mixture of pride for being there, and pride for having me there with him.
My heart could have burst with love.
When the race began, James took off like a shot, darting between other kids and the few adults running. I tracked his orange hoodie as he followed a man leading everyone on bike, pedaling up the street. It wasn’t long before I left the crowd behind, breathing evenly as each step hit the pavement, catching a whiff of someone’s onion bagel.
When I caught up to James, I could see his initial burst of speed had nearly taken the race out of him. His run had turned into a quick shuffle and was fast becoming a walk. I challenged him to beat me to the street corner where we would hang a left.
His eyes narrowed, a tell that he was steeling his determination.
My gamble paid off.
The challenge lit a fire under his heels and James surged ahead of me. Smiling, I chased after.
When he beat me to the corner, he dropped back to a shuffle, but there was a new challenge to present him. The halfway point in the race was a street cone and it was just ahead.
I encouraged him. “Beat me to the cone!”
Again, the challenge worked and I loved that he didn’t back down from it. This time he pushed harder. I had to run fast to close the distance, rounding the cone just behind him. Catching up, we ran side-by-side.
The rest of the world didn’t matter. Being there with him, sharing that moment was everything.
In the last stretch of the race, James’ energy flagged. He wasn’t ready to just walk it in, he might have crawled, or even stopped if I let him.
I told him, “I’m tired too.”
Taking his tiny hand in mine, I said, “Come on, help me. Let’s do this together.”
He squeezed my hand in answer and we picked up our pace running nonstop to cross the finish line.
As each of the children finished the race, a medal was placed around their necks. I’m not usually one for saying, “We’re all winners,” which seems to have become the motto at school field days, but this was different.
Elementary school students have to take part in field day activities, but the kids who came and raced the 1K wanted to.
This is why I began my fitness quest a year and a half ago, for this little boy, beaming as he showed off his medal to his mother, and cousin. I wanted to be able to run, and play, and be active with my children.
I wanted to teach them that good fitness should be a part of life, so one day they too can know the immeasurable joy of doing something like this with their children.